Underneath the freshly revealed Final Four banner, South Carolina’s Chris Silva reminded Western Michigan’s Reggie Jones which was the better team Monday evening.
The Gamecocks beat the Broncos, 78-60, at Colonial Life Arena. Afterward, the backboard glass on one end was still intact.
The first half was nearing its finish when Jones made a steal and eased his way toward the rim. A layup and the Broncos, preseason favorites in the Mid-American Conference, would be in the lead.
But Silva, South Carolina’s preseason All-SEC player, wasn’t going to let things go that smoothly. The 6-foot-9, 223-pound freak of an athlete swatted Jones’ attempt with such ferocity the basketball led Kory Holden on a break the other way. Holden eventually connected on a three-footer, the first two points of a game-breaking 12-0 run.
USC is 2-0 this season, knocking off a couple dangerous mid-major clubs by double-digits.
“Real good win for us,” said South Carolina coach Frank Martin. “They’re a real good basketball team. They’ve got all the ingredients to be a real good team. They got athleticism, they got size, they got depth, they got a special player at guard, they can score off the dribble, score off the catch.
“I’m real proud of the guys.”
Similar to Friday’s 21-point win over Wofford, South Carolina on Monday took command late in the first half and continued the good play until the final buzzer.
Silva scored 10 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. His emphatic block came with 6:34 left in the first half. Then came Holden’s drive, a Felipe Haase 3, a David Beatty 3, two Silva free throws and two Beatty free throws.
The Broncos (1-1) struggled to recover. They were down nine at the break and as many as 18 in the second half.
“Just too much South Carolina tonight,” said WMU coach Steve Hawkins.
Hassani Gravett scored 15 points, Frank Booker had 14 and Maik Kotsar added 10.
Nine Gamecocks scored at least four points. They shot better than 45 percent for a second straight game.
“For as bad a job as I did to prepare us offensively,” Martin said, “I’m real proud of the way they fought and figured out a way to play well enough to help us win.”
Monday marked Carolina’s second of five games in nine days. The busy stretch, Martin said, is forcing the coach to be selective on what he emphasizes in practice.
“With such a young team, I got to pick and choose what we’re doing in practice right now because I can’t keep these guys on the court for three hours,” he said.
The focus leading into WMU was defense. That much showed as the Gamecocks held the Broncos to 36 percent shooting (24 percent from 3). WMU finished with 43 points below what they recorded in their season-opening win over Siena Heights College.
The offensive approach, though, wasn’t as detailed. USC relied early on drives to the rim and open floor opportunities.
“I think we got a lot of guards that are athletic,” Gravett said. “So when we get into the paint, we’re able to draw fouls or get up higher than our defender.
“So, yeah, we’re pretty comfortable in there.”
Gravett picked up his second foul with 12:19 left in the first half and didn’t return until the beginning of the final period. The junior point guard guided USC’s 40-point second half.
“I just let go of the first half,” said Gravett, who added two assists and four rebounds. “I didn’t get to get to play and I knew I was going to be full of energy for the second half. I just tried to come out and help my team as best I could.”
USC made five of 13 3-point attempts in the second half. Gravett’s trey with 5:35 left capped a 7-0 run and put the Gamecocks up 17.
Western Michigan got a game-high 23 points from preseason All-MAC selection Thomas Wilder. Jones finished with seven.
“I didn’t want to give up an easy layup,” Silva said of his big block. “I had to run, so that’s what I did.”
The Gamecocks are in Conway on Thursday for the relocated Puerto Rico Tip-Off Classic. They’ll tip with Illinois State at 11:30 a.m. on Coastal Carolina’s campus.