Call it ugly, sloppy, fundamentally lacking, but also call it a win.
South Carolina broke a two-game losing streak with an 89-75 win over UNC Asheville on Wednesday, doing just enough right to overcome a Bulldogs squad that wasn’t afraid to chuck the ball at the basket any time from anywhere on the court. UNCA shot a mere 36.5 percent (and that was with star Andrew Rowsey going 10-for-18 for 30 points; discounting him, the Bulldogs shot 29 percent), the Gamecocks (3-3) again controlled the defensive boards and got their three-guard attack unshackled.
“Good win for us,” coach Frank Martin said. “The more I watched them on film, the more concerned I got.”
With a rare height advantage, USC began the game trying to work the ball inside but center Laimonas Chatkevicius, starting over the injured Michael Carrera, couldn’t find the bottom of the basket despite shooting less than two feet from the hole. With Rowsey hitting step-back 3s that brushed the banners in the rafters of Colonial Life Arena before splashing down and the Bulldogs (2-3) trying to win the 100-meter dash on every possession, USC looked lead-footed by comparison.
But only Rowsey could hit consistently, and the Gamecocks began to take advantage. Using its best skill – rebounding – USC kept Asheville from getting second chances and began to find its missing touch.
Chatkevicius had his first career double-double (17 points, 13 rebounds, plus three blocks) and even drained two 3-pointers, his first two since he made three during his freshman year. Four others joined him in double figures, including the three guards that USC has been counting on to lead.
Sindarius Thornwell woke from a first-half slumber to score 12 points and was joined by 12 each from Ty Johnson and Duane Notice. Demetrius Henry was consistent throughout the game with 15 points, eight boards and three blocks.
The Gamecocks spurted ahead, a 13-0 run with less than nine minutes to go stretching a seven-point lead to 20. The Bulldogs launched 29 3-pointers (they average 22) and made 15. USC ended with 20 turnovers, barely out-rebounded a team that was much smaller and gifted Asheville 20 points off the miscues – but won.
“It’s not easy at all,” Henry said. “A team like that, they can just get hot out of nowhere. (Rowsey’s) capable of going for 40 every night.”
Rowsey had to sit for much of the second half due to foul trouble and USC used the opening. Chatkevicius finished his best career game and the Gamecocks could enjoy an ending for just the second time in five games.
“I wasn’t expecting anything big,” Chatkevicius said. “After two losses, the whole team was just trying to go out there and do their best. Just happened to be me being in the right spot.”
“I told him after the game, I’ve been challenging him for two and a half years to play up to his capabilities more consistently,” Martin said. “He did that in the second half.”
NOTE: Carrera missed the game with a concussion and also had his left foot in a boot. Martin said the boot was a precaution for a sprained ankle and didn’t know if Carrera would be ready for Monday’s game at Marshall, considering how tricky concussions are. Without Carrera, USC dressed 10 players.
Johnson also hit the deck and bruised his hip in the second half. He returned to the game.
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UNC ASHEVILLE (2-3)
Ubaru 2-11 3-4 9, Robertson 5-10 0-0 15, Rowsey 10-18 4-5 30, Zilli 0-3 0-0 0, Littlejohn 1-7 2-4 5, Wnuk 0-0 0-0 0, Wilmoth 0-0 0-0 0, Vannatta 2-6 1-1 6, Neely 0-0 0-0 0, Miller 0-0 0-0 0, Pal 0-0 0-0 0, Casper 0-0 0-0 0, Hughes 1-3 2-4 4, Roberts 2-5 2-2 6. Totals 23-63 14-20 75.
SOUTH CAROLINA (3-3)
Thornwell 5-13 1-2 12, Johnson 3-7 5-7 12, Notice 4-6 2-4 12, Chatkevicius 5-11 5-6 17, Henry 6-11 3-4 15, Stroman 2-3 3-3 7, Theus Jr. 1-1 0-0 2, McKie 3-5 0-0 8, Kacinas 2-3 0-0 4, Steele 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 31-60 19-26 89.
Halftime: South Carolina 37-29. 3-Point Goals: UNC Asheville 15-29 (Rowsey 6-12, Robertson 5-9, Ubaru 2-2, Vannatta 1-3, Littlejohn 1-3), South Carolina 8-17 (Chatkevicius 2-2, McKie 2-3, Notice 2-4, Johnson 1-3, Thornwell 1-5). Fouled Out: None. Rebounds: UNC Asheville 35 (Ubaru 10), South Carolina 39 (Chatkevicius 13). Assists: UNC Asheville 12 (Robertson, Vannatta 3), South Carolina 21 (Johnson, Stroman 6). Total Fouls: UNC Asheville 21, South Carolina 15. Attendance: 8,330.