USC’S TOP SCORER the past five games has come off the bench in all but one contest and is known more for his rebounding.
Malik Cooke has collected more points since USC beat LSU than the team’s top three scorers — Bruce Ellington, Sam Muldrow and Ramon Galloway.
Starting in place of the injured Lakeem Jackson against Tennessee on Wednesday, the junior forward led the Gamecocks with a career-high 22 points. He could have had more if some of his layups fell and he avoided foul trouble that cost him 11 minutes on the bench in the first half.
Cooke’s 19 second-half points against the Volunteers were the second-most in a half this season by a Gamecock. Bruce Ellington poured in 20 points during the second half of the loss to Furman before Christmas.
The Gamecocks outscored the Volunteers in the second half during what USC coach Darrin Horn called a good balanced game for his team.
The Nevada transfer is averaging 13.4 points per game in the past five games, slightly ahead of Ellington’s 12.8 points. Cooke, who started the season’s first 10 games, should get two more starts as Jackson rests his sore foot through the Feb. 26 game at Georgia.
Horn likely will reinsert Jackson into the starting lineup in about a week. But Cooke — Jackson’s teammate at Christ School — should have a chance to start if he continues his hot shooting.
Giving it a shot
South Carolina attempted 73 shots against Tennessee — a team-high in regulation. USC missed 49 of them — also a team-high. And the Gamecocks took 21 more shots than the Volunteers — yet another team-high.
Compared with its SEC opponents this season, South Carolina has taken 82 more shots and missed 92 more. Meanwhile, league foes have scored 10 more baskets.
The result: USC is shooting 37.8 percent in conference play versus 44.6 percent for its opponents.
Ellington shot 6-for-20 and scored 15 points on a badly bruised calf Wednesday, and the freshman is shooting 31.2 percent in SEC play after going 37.9 percent in nonconference games. His 3-point shooting has dropped to 27.6 percent in league action from 40.6 percent in nonconference contests.
Where things stand
USC is in last place in the SEC East at 4-7, two games behind three teams tied for third. The Gamecocks are 13-11 overall with five regular-season games left.
A winning record could help secure an NIT bid, but three of the remaining games are on the road. USC is 3-6 away from Columbia and headed to No. 22 Kentucky on Saturday.