If he only hit one, he hit the right one.
South Carolina sophomore P.J. Dozier, scoreless in regulation, made the only basket he needed on Tuesday. He jumped to receive a cross-court pass from Duane Notice, caught it in the air, released …
And calmly faced the end-zone crowd at Colonial Life Arena as a 70-69 overtime winner over Monmouth.
“I thought (Notice) was about to shoot it, personally,” Dozier said after he disentangled himself from his joyous teammates. “So we were about to crash the glass and he found me in the short corner.”
Dozier scored six points, all in overtime, after going 0-for-7 in regulation. All three of his OT buckets produced USC leads, but the Hawks (1-1) kept coming back.
Je’lon Hornbeak converted a three-point play for a 69-68 lead with 1:02 to go. The Hawks’ Justin Robinson missed a jumper and Sindarius Thornwell rebounded, which started the break.
USC went near its bench, looking to isolate Thornwell or Notice, but neither was open. Notice drove the lane and spied Dozier, who according to coach Frank Martin, wasn’t where he was supposed to be.
Yet Dozier caught and shot in one motion, a play that reminded Martin of his former star at Kansas State, Michael Beasley. The shot went in, USC won and beat a team expected to win its conference title.
“At the end of the year, they don’t ask you how you won games. They ask you how many you won and they ask who you beat,” said Martin, who knows a few things about RPI and strength of schedule. “Any time you can get out of an early-season game against a team as good as Monmouth that returns all their players, that has the guard play that they have, you take it and figure out a way to get better.”
Martin wasn’t happy with USC’s offense, which twice built huge leads (19-2 and 38-22) and frittered them away. He said the Gamecocks don’t listen well.
The Hawks couldn’t throw it in the ocean for the game’s first 30 minutes, but USC – after two hot starts to open the halves – also went through long scoreless stretches. The Gamecocks (3-0) barely avoided throwing away the final possession in regulation (Dozier had a 3-pointer glance off the rim after a tip-drill sequence at midcourt) and were playing overtime without Chris Silva, who had three key rebounds at the end of regulation.
But Thornwell had enough key free throws and blocks at the end to keep USC close, and Dozier got the ball in his hands. It was redemption for a bad 40 minutes and an up-and-down freshman year where Martin often didn’t have him in at the end of close games.
Martin said Dozier wouldn’t have had Tuesday’s chance last year. But he earned it this year, and made it count.
“The experience from last year helps tremendously, knowing what to expect in difficult games such as this one,” Dozier said. “Credit to my team, my coaches that we all help one another when someone’s having a bad game.”
Dozier’s first bucket in overtime, after he narrowly missed a game-winning 3 from halfcourt, gave USC a 64-61 lead.
Star of the game: Dozier won it, but Thornwell scored 23 with six assists, three blocks, two steals and nine rebounds. He made every key shot down the stretch and blocked a shot at the end of regulation.
Play of the game: Dozier’s shot.
Stat of the game: The final 15 minutes saved an otherwise dreary game. The Gamecocks and Hawks shot a combined 43 of 133 (32.3 percent).
FROM THE BASELINE
The Tar Heel Way: You could tell Monmouth coach King Rice played for Dean Smith. Even during USC’s 19-2 run, and 9-0 run to start a seven-point game at halftime, Rice refused to call timeout. Why?
Like Smith said, you might need them at the end of the game. Monmouth did and used them.
It just means less? Martin asked for an SEC atmosphere for this game. He got it … at the end of the game.
Otherwise, the listed attendance was 9,779 (it appeared far less). There were empty rows in the student section. CLA was roaring in the final 10 minutes, but the game lasted 45.
Who: South Carolina vs. S.C. State
When: 6:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Colonial Life Arena
TV: SEC Network Plus
Follow on Twitter at @DCTheState