South Carolina was concerned about the loss of a senior voice in the locker room on Friday, after Bruce Ellington declared his intention to enter the NFL draft. A youth-oriented team doesn’t replace four years of experience overnight.
But there was that other senior. And Brenton Williams knew exactly what was needed when S.C. State kept slicing through USC’s defense and collecting second-chance points like free lottery tickets.
Williams scored five of his team-high 19 points on consecutive possessions as USC beat the Bulldogs 82-75 for its fourth consecutive win. The Gamecocks completed their nonconference season with five wins in six games and improved to 7-6, finishing Friday’s game in survival mode after watching an 11-point halftime lead turn into a 60-60 game with 6:50 to play.
Williams saw hanging heads, a fluttering offense and a way out. So he did something about it.
“The main thing that I was communicating to the guys was they were beating us to offensive rebounds,” Williams said. “They were outworking us, outhustling us. We had to tighten that up a little bit.”
Ty Johnson picked up a loose ball and fed Williams on the right side, and Williams, knowing he was about to inherit a mouthful of floor, still didn’t hesitate. He went up to lay the ball in and slammed into the baseline surface, but shook it off to sink the free throw and grab a 68-61 lead.
After the Bulldogs’ Theron Stephens sank two free throws, Williams found himself alone on the floor with an open 3-point chance. Knowing that a miss might give the running Bulldogs another pretty easy two points, Williams dribbled inside, rose and hit a short floater.
Johnson scored 11 of his 17 points in the second half and hit enough free throws to put the Bulldogs to bed, ending a night that was frustrating for the coaching staff but resulted in a victory. USC settled for a perimeter game in the first half, shooting 3-pointers and not challenging S.C. State in the paint, but after the Bulldogs began ramming the ball through USC’s interior defense, the Gamecocks were forced to mimic the attack.
After the tie, USC began driving to the lane and trying to fix its defense. The Gamecocks were happy to win, but practice leading to the SEC opener on Wednesday promises to be intense.
“We got totally outplayed. We had no business winning today,” coach Frank Martin said. “I think the only reason we won today was we had played well coming into this game, so we felt that we should win. I thought we had taken some steps in the right direction. Obviously, we regressed today.”
Martin credited Williams’ leadership to hit the big shots, but wants more. When the game was getting tight, he wanted to see jersey-grabbing and player-to-player instruction. He didn’t get that from Williams or anybody else.
Martin was proud of how the Gamecocks dug themselves out of a 2-5 start to finish the nonconference season 7-6. But the coach wants more leadership.
“We got outrebounded, out-attacked, they had more steals than we did,” Martin said. “Leadership’s not a sometimes thing, it’s an everyday thing.”
SC STATE (4-9)
White 3-6 2-4 8, Stephens 5-12 2-2 15, Joint 4-6 1-2 9, Palmer 5-7 0-0 12, Radovic 0-1 1-1 1, Smith 0-2 0-0 0, Kirksey 1-4 2-4 4, Adams 4-10 0-0 8, Mitchell 0-2 0-0 0, Hezekiah 7-9 4-5 18, Eastmon 0-0 0-0 0, Wright 0-6 0-0 0. Totals 29-65 12-18 75.
SOUTH CAROLINA (7-6)
Thornwell 1-6 5-6 8, Williams 6-7 5-5 19, Notice 3-8 6-8 13, Henry 5-11 0-1 10, Kacinas 0-0 3-6 3, Johnson 5-9 5-7 17, Shaw 2-4 0-0 5, Chatkevicius 3-3 0-0 6, Carrera 0-2 1-2 1, Ringer 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-50 25-35 82.
Halftime_South Carolina 44-33. 3-Point Goals_SC State 5-20 (Stephens 3-8, Palmer 2-2, White 0-1, Smith 0-2, Adams 0-2, Wright 0-5), South Carolina 7-15 (Johnson 2-2, Williams 2-3, Thornwell 1-3, Shaw 1-3, Notice 1-4). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_SC State 35 (Joint 7), South Carolina 31 (Henry 11). Assists_SC State 14 (White 5), South Carolina 13 (Notice 8). Total Fouls_SC State 27, South Carolina 16. Technical_White. A_7,357.