They didn’t know how to react.
After so many close calls, so many wins that inexplicably became losses, South Carolina’s players – 10 strong – didn’t dump a Gatorade cooler or throw the ball into the scoreboard. They gathered like they always do, to salute the band and students during the alma mater, and then reflected on what they just accomplished.
Gamecocks 75, Oklahoma State 49.
Perhaps it was so one-sided that they couldn’t believe it, either.
“As a team, we just want to hit teams first from now on,” sophomore Duane Notice said. “We want to attack so we don’t dig ourselves a hole and lose the close games we always lost last year.”
USC notched its first non-SEC win against a Power 5 conference team since 2012 on Saturday in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, routing the Cowboys with a barrage of scorching shooting and stifling defense. Oklahoma State (7-1) dropped its first game and didn’t look surprised when it did – the Gamecocks (5-3) were tougher, more physical and made the big shots that have eluded them during Frank Martin’s era.
“Say, ‘Oh, we had an off night?,’” Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said. “No, they played good defense.”
It didn’t come down to a botched inbounds play or not making a game-winning shot. USC owned the game from the tip, trailing once. The Cowboys got nothing from their star players and couldn’t hope to make a dent.
“Last year, when we went over there, we weren’t ready for that kind of game,” Martin said. “Good to see those young kids of ours stay the course and continue to work and be excited for what we’re trying to do.”
Sindarius Thornwell shook off a tentative start to his sophomore season, scoring eight of USC’s first 17 points on his way to 13 and collecting nine rebounds. Notice, a game after scoring 27, added 20. Ty Johnson had 13 and Mindaugas Kacinas had nine points with 12 boards.
Kacinas drained a 3-pointer for a 50-34 lead with 13:32 to play, and USC was feeling great. Many of the 12,007 fans at Colonial Life Arena felt good and bad – they’d seen this situation before, many times, and the opponent usually found a way to keep the game close, then spurt ahead in the final five minutes.
Not this time. The Gamecocks’ next four possessions each notched their biggest lead. When Notice coolly swished a 3 to make it 60-38, the remaining nine minutes might as well have been seconds. OSU headed from the gym with top scorer Phil Forte holding five points on 1-of-14 shooting, Le’Bryan Nash (18.3 average) with 13 and the team shooting 24.6 percent.
The only problem for the Gamecocks was having to take 13 days off for exams. As good as they played Saturday, they wanted to play again on Sunday.
“If we were playing bad, we’d probably have a game on Monday,” Martin said. “Now we’re playing halfway decent, we don’t play a game for two weeks.”
It was the largest margin of victory for USC since beating Texas A&M 80-52 last season. The Cowboys suffered their worst non-conference loss since 1979.
It was also a continuation of what the Gamecocks learned during a disappointing 1-2 showing at the Charleston Classic. Not shooting well has flipped a page on USC’s season; the Gamecocks are concentrating on their defense and relying less on the half-court.
“The Charlotte game, where we were up 18 and blew the lead, we learned from that,” Thornwell said. “That was just big for us all week, playing good defense and making sure they don’t get to run their sets. Just to get into the passing lanes and make it hard for them, extend them out.”
The result was grand, and USC will enjoy it, but knows it won’t mean much if it can’t keep it going after the exam break. Rival Clemson awaits.
“We got to go play the next game,” Martin said. “We got to keep doing what we’re doing. Over the last two years, we’ve been fighting to eliminate doubt.”
NOTE: Michael Carrera missed his third consecutive game with concussion-like symptoms. He practiced on Thursday and was light-headed afterward, so he sat as a precaution. He is expected to be cleared for the next game, hosting Clemson on Dec. 19.
OKLAHOMA STATE (7-1)
Nash 4-15 5-8 13, Hickey Jr. 2-10 0-0 4, Forte III 1-14 2-2 5, Cobbins 2-3 0-0 4, Carroll 1-3 0-1 2, Griffin 0-3 2-2 2, Shine 0-2 0-0 0, Sager 1-2 0-0 3, Newberry 2-8 2-2 8, Allen Jr. 0-2 1-4 1, Solomon 3-3 0-0 7. Totals 16-65 12-19 49.
SOUTH CAROLINA (5-3)
Thornwell 3-9 7-9 13, Johnson 5-9 3-3 13, Notice 7-13 3-3 20, Chatkevicius 3-7 0-0 6, Henry 1-5 2-2 4, Stroman 2-6 0-1 4, Theus Jr. 0-0 0-0 0, McKie 2-4 1-2 6, Kacinas 3-7 1-2 9, Steele 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-60 17-22 75.
Halftime_South Carolina 32-24. 3-Point Goals_Oklahoma St. 5-24 (Newberry 2-2, Solomon 1-1, Sager 1-2, Forte III 1-10, Shine 0-1, Griffin 0-1, Nash 0-2, Carroll 0-2, Hickey Jr. 0-3), South Carolina 6-17 (Notice 3-6, Kacinas 2-4, McKie 1-2, Thornwell 0-1, Chatkevicius 0-1, Johnson 0-3). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Oklahoma St. 41 (Nash 10), South Carolina 49 (Kacinas 12). Assists_Oklahoma St. 7 (Hickey Jr. 3), South Carolina 14 (Stroman 5). Total Fouls_Oklahoma St. 17, South Carolina 19. A_12,007.