For nearly 31 minutes during Tuesday night’s nationally televised game, USC outscored No. 2 Michigan State on the road by 10 points.
While the Gamecocks lost 82-73 on a late first-half spurt by the Spartans, coach Darrin Horn got a good showing on national TV against a top team just like he sought.
This was a big step for the program in Horn’s third year.
Fans got a glimpse of what his team could be in a couple of years with the speed of freshman guard Bruce Ellington, good perimeter shooting and defensive pressure to force turnovers.
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There’s a chance the Gamecocks could surprise a few SEC teams this season with showings like this.
Consider that No. 9 Florida lost by 18 to No. 4 Ohio State in Gainesville on Tuesday. The veteran Gators — returning five starters — were outscored in the second half by 22 points.
The Gamecocks — returning two starters — outscored the Spartans 48-40 in the second half when the conventional wisdom is that the younger USC team would tire.
And watch out Buckeyes: USC comes to Columbus in a month.
USC dug a 17-point first-half hole as Michigan State dominated the last nine minutes in response to USC taking a 21-19 lead.
To end the half, the Gamecocks made one of nine shots while turning over the ball six times and being outrebounded by a 2-to-1 margin as the Spartans took advantage to outscore USC 23-4.
A turning point came soon after Michigan State regained the lead when a 3-pointer by Ellington was taken off the scoreboard. The referees ruled the shot clock should not have been reset on a miss by Malik Cooke that bounced to Ellington.
Then the Spartans continued on what would be a 14-0 run.
“I think it was huge. It was the right call,” Horn said “I think it really impacted us, that is what veteran teams and real programs do. They play through that and play for the next play. I don’t think we did a good job of that.”
The better half
In the second half dominated by the Gamecocks, ESPN showed more shots of Michigan State coach Tom Izzo looking worried than of Horn all game.
USC opened the second half by cutting Michigan State’s 17-point lead to eight after pressing the Spartans in the first five minutes.
The Gamecocks did not press in the first half “because we weren’t scoring well, Horn said. “We really came out and did it by necessity to start the second half. Just to get the game going in a way where we could get the floor spread, and they couldn’t execute in their half-court (offense). I’m not sure that they ran one offensive set in the second half, because of how we defended.”
After Michigan State extended its lead to 16 with 10 minutes left, USC rallied again to slice that advantage to six with two minutes remaining. Then the Spartans, who were making less than half their free throws, sunk six in a row to end the game.
When the Breslin Center crowd came alive in the second half, “We didn’t handle it very well.” Horn said. “It is a learning experience for our team, one that we will take forward and get better from. I don’t know that we will play a better team in a better environment than we did tonight.”
A nice national debut
In 34 minutes, freshman guard Bruce Ellington had a team-high 22 points along with five boards, five assists, four steals and one ball-wrestling match tie with Spartan forward Drayton Green, who is nine inches taller and 38 pounds heavier. The Lowcountry product also flashed a polite smile at a cheerleader whom he slid next to while lunging for a ball late in the game. No. 23 showed why he will be a star in Columbia — and the talk of national commentators.
Changing of the guard
Guards Brian Richardson and Stephen Spinella were USC’s next highest scorers behind Ellington with 11 and 10 points, respectively. Combined, they went 5-for-8 from the 3-point arc, made six rebounds and committed one turnover while playing a little more than 20 minutes each.
USC had plenty of chances to score, getting off 17 more shots from the field and 14 more 3-point tries than Michigan State. But the Gamecocks shot 36 percent from the field and 35 percent from 3-point line compared with the Spartans’ 54 percent and 41 percent.
Cooke, who dominated against Elon after being shut out in an exhibition, went 4-for-15 from the field and 1-for-7 from 3-point land for nine points. The transfer from Nevada took more shots and spent more time on the court than any other Gamecock except for Ellington. The redshirt junior forward had a team-high 11 boards.
Chairmen of the boards
USC outrebounded Michigan State 44-41 with a strong second half. The Spartans have led the nation two seasons running in rebound margin. But as the Gamecocks became more aggressive, USC took the edge on the glass 29-23 in the last half.
Better late than...
Many ESPN viewers missed the first 10 1/2 minutes of the USC-Michigan State game because the contest before it, Louisville-Butler, ran long.
While some TV providers switched to the game for viewers in South Carolina and Michigan, folks watching the network’s national feed got to see Butler, a Final Four team last season, fail to overcome a 22-point deficit.
The national feed joined the game in East Lansing just before the Gamecocks went ahead, 21-19, for their second — and last — lead of the contest.