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Basketball: Gamecocks test a theory

USC’s Dominique Archie scores as Winthrop forward Mantoris Robinson defends during Sunday’s game.
USC’s Dominique Archie scores as Winthrop forward Mantoris Robinson defends during Sunday’s game. AP

It’s been observed by a few basketball coaches that when a team loses a key player, it tends to comes out the next game and play better. Eventually, it will miss the player, but a team’s first reaction to injury is to ramp up the effort.

That theory fit the South Carolina men’s basketball team on Sunday.

Two days after losing starting guard Brandis Raley-Ross, the Gamecocks routed Winthrop, 86-63, after scoring the game’s first 19 points.

And in the effort categories, South Carolina did everything right:

It forced 22 turnovers and produced 12 steals. USC collected 48 rebounds, including 23 on the offensive end.

Dominique Archie and Mike Holmes had double-doubles, and Evka Baniulis was one point and one rebound away.

Devan Downey, who had a game-high 21 points, said “everybody went out and played for Brandis.”

Raley-Ross, a junior guard, will miss three-to-four weeks with a knee sprain. Combined with the indefinite absence of center Sam Muldrow (academics), the Gamecocks were down to nine bodies, and started a former walk-on, Branden Conrad, in Raley-Ross’ place.

Fittingly, Conrad ignited the 19-0 run by hitting the game’s first basket.

“We’ve been hearing all this about how you’re going to do this, how you’re going to play like this without these amount of bodies” Downey said. “We don’t care about none of that. If we’ve got six players in the locker room, those six players are gonna give everything they’ve got. And that was the case today.”

Darrin Horn became the first men’s basketball coach since World War II to win his first two games at USC. That 11-coach span includes Frank Maguire.

“In general, the goal is, obviously, always to win, but early on you want to continue to get better,” Horn said. “We thought we saw some progress (Sunday) in some areas.”

Though far from an SEC team, Winthrop is a perennial NCAA tournament team and is picked to win the Big South Conference again.

But the Gamecocks’ energy and height were too much. The Eagles had nothing to stop Holmes and Archie inside, and nine 3-pointers from the Gamecocks accelerated Winthrop’s demise.

Winthrop (1-1) responded well to the opening run, drawing within nine in the first half and eight in the second.

But USC put it away with a 26-5 run that featured three consecutive 3-pointers by Zam Fredrick, followed by three more 3s in a row by Downey.

“Mike and ’Nique played monster games on the glass,” Downey said. “Any time you’ve got two guys out there playing like that, a whole team flying around on defense, five guys playing as one, you’re going to be competitive.”

Reach Emerson at (803) 771-8676.