Duane Notice kept getting up, and his teammates finally did the same.
South Carolina rose off the winless mat of the SEC with an 80-52 win over Texas A&M on Wednesday, avoiding its worst-ever SEC start and injecting some much-needed confidence. The Gamecocks (8-12, 1-6 SEC) weathered an A&M charge at the start of the second half, got production from their recently missing big men and received an up-and-down game (mostly up) from Notice, the gritty freshman who always seemed to erase his last mistake with a brilliant play.
Life hasn’t been easy for Notice, forced to play extended minutes due to Ty Johnson’s injury and losing a mentor in Bruce Ellington. His last four games were either double figures or single buckets, and when he had an early case of the turnovers on Wednesday, coach Frank Martin was again running out of point guards.
Yet, Notice was following his five turnovers with hard drives to the rim, drawing fouls and rolling balls through the rim. He scored a career-high 19 points and charged at the Aggies’ interior, racking up fouls and forcing A&M to back away. With Laimonas Chatkevicius as aggressive on offense as he’s ever been, and the usual contributions from scorers Brenton Williams and Sindarius Thornwell, the Gamecocks had more than enough to win.
“When you make a mistake or turnover, it’s part of basketball,” Notice said. “You just got to come back and capitalize on the next opportunity.”
A&M cut into a 20-point halftime lead immediately after the break, trimming it to 13, but Notice answered with a three-point play and USC kept stretching the advantage. The Gamecocks needed a win after a handful of close losses and a looming trip to Ole Miss on Saturday, and got one to restore hope that more are on the way. It was the most lopsided SEC win for the Gamecocks since a 34-point victory over Tennessee in 2002.
A&M (12-8, 3-4) dropped its fourth straight and got hardly any production from the Aggies that beat up USC two weeks ago at Reed Arena. Shawn Smith, Davonte Fitzgerald and Jamal Jones combined for 24 points, when they had 49 in the last game.
In front of a crowd that featured former athletic director Eric Hyman, who traveled with A&M to Columbia on Tuesday, the Gamecocks came out hungry and aggressive. They attacked the Aggies in the paint and hounded them with a press, making it into a run-and-gun game.
“That was one of the things that Frank implicated before the game,” Williams said. “That’s what we did the first time we played them, attacking them in the post and not settling for anything. We were taking good shots, instead of rushing.”
Demetrius Henry again faced first-half foul trouble, but Chatkevicius played perhaps the best game of his career. Posting up against A&M’s big men and flipping the ball off the window, Chatkevicius scored six points with three rebounds in his first seven minutes of action.
He ended with 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting, including a couple of crowd-pleasing dunks. Thornwell had 19 and Williams had 18, while Michael Carrera had seven and grabbed seven rebounds.
“It wasn’t that great of a game, because I had just three rebounds. I don’t consider that a great game,” Chatkevicius said.
What was great was USC broke the winless streak. With limited fans due to the weather, and no pep band, cheerleaders, dance team or mascot, the Gamecocks still enjoyed a festive atmosphere at Colonial Life Arena.
“It does feel good,” Williams said. “We knew one was coming sooner or later.”
“Nobody wants to be 0-6, first of all,” Martin said. “But I don’t coach according to our record. Rarely, do I ever, speak about our record.
“Feels good to win. As a coach, you sleep a little better after a win. They stayed positive, even though results didn’t go our way.”
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TEXAS A&M (12-8)
Roberson 2-2 1-2 5, Space 3-6 0-1 7, Smith 2-8 5-8 9, Caruso 1-4 2-2 4, Jones 1-7 7-9 9, Miller 1-3 1-2 3, Green 1-3 0-0 3, McDonald 0-0 0-0 0, Harris 2-4 0-2 6, Fitzgerald 3-8 0-2 6, Johns 0-0 0-1 0. Totals 16-45 16-29 52.
SOUTH CAROLINA (8-12)
Henry 1-1 0-0 2, Carrera 2-6 5-6 9, Thornwell 5-8 8-8 19, Williams 5-11 4-6 18, Notice 6-8 6-6 19, Shaw 0-2 0-0 0, Constable 0-0 0-0 0, Chatkevicius 5-6 2-2 12, Theus Jr. 0-0 1-2 1, McKie 0-2 0-0 0, Kacinas 0-0 0-0 0, Ringer 0-1 0-0 0, Steele 0-1 0-2 0. Totals 24-46 26-32 80.
Halftime_South Carolina 41-21. 3-Point Goals_Texas A&M 4-16 (Harris 2-3, Space 1-1, Green 1-2, Caruso 0-1, Fitzgerald 0-2, Smith 0-3, Jones 0-4), South Carolina 6-15 (Williams 4-8, Notice 1-2, Thornwell 1-3, Shaw 0-1, Steele 0-1). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Texas A&M 25 (Harris, Jones 5), South Carolina 33 (Carrera 7). Assists_Texas A&M 11 (Caruso, Green, Harris, Space 2), South Carolina 11 (Notice, Thornwell 3). Total Fouls_Texas A&M 23, South Carolina 19. Attendance_9,950.