The South Carolina men's basketball team opened its season Friday night. But Devan Downey felt like last week's exhibition game - when the star guard had a pedestrian performance - called for a response.
It started at the tip. Downey hit his first five shots, two of them 3s, and had 15 points in the first eight minutes.
As the game turned into a laugher, Downey sat and had to settle for a team-high 23 points in an 88-50 victory against Alabama A&M. But he had made his point, and was able to shake off his six-point performance in a 78-55 victory against Kentucky Wesleyan on Thursday.
"You know, I felt like in the exhibition game I wasn't really aggressive," Downey said. "So I just wanted to come out and be very aggressive."
The blowout allowed USC to experiment. Coach Darrin Horn played a little zone defense and tried different lineup combinations as he works in four new players, three of whom are set to see significant playing time.
The Gamecocks ran a nine-man rotation for much of the first half, subbing four at a time. Junior-college transfer Johndre Jefferson saw key minutes and finished with eight points, seven rebounds and three blocks.
For now, Jefferson appears ahead of holdover Austin Steed, a forward who was the fifth man off the bench.
"What you saw tonight is where we think everybody is," Horn said.
The only mild concern was the performance of highly touted freshman Lakeem Jackson. The forward was the only starter not to score, missing four 3-pointers and going 0-for-6 overall.
Ramon Galloway, another highly regarded freshman, had four points.
"They didn't make the shots they could've made. I think they were pressing a bit," senior guard Brandis Raley-Ross said. "They knew it was their first game. There was a bit of anxiety."
But Horn was happy to see the freshmen contribute in other ways; Galloway had six rebounds, and Jackson had three assists and two blocks.
"They're talented and they're guys that are going to be important for us," Horn said. "But they're still freshmen."
So the opener ended up being a chance of the veterans to shine.
Senior forward Dominique Archie had 15 points, six of them at the foul line. Center Sam Muldrow continued to show he can be an offensive force, hitting his first career 3-pointer.
Junior forward Mike Holmes had 14 points, going 6-for-10 from the field.
"If you can get your interior to combine for 27 (points) and 11 (rebounds) every night, I think that's the kind of production that can help you be successful," Horn said.
It was Downey who set the tone, and his shooting and high energy seemed to rub off.
"It always starts with the point guard, the quarterback of the team," Downey said. "So I think they really did feed off me."