The football team is not the only squad at South Carolina eyeing 10 wins.
By beating Jacksonville State 56-49 on Wednesday, the Gamecocks basketball team kept alive its chances of winning 10 nonconference games — a recent indicator for reaching a postseason tournament. Three of the past four seasons that started with double-digit nonconference win totals ended with either an NCAA or NIT invitation for USC.
To reach that mark, USC (8-3) needs victories in its final two nonconference games, against Boston College on New Year’s Day and S.C. State on Tuesday, both at Colonial Life Arena.
It was only appropriate that USC’s win Wednesday came in a scrappy game against the only other Division I team nicknamed the “Gamecocks.” Despite having the nation’s worst RPI, Jacksonville State (2-12) held USC to its lowest point total of the season. USC committed 19 turnovers, nearly four more than its season average.
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The Gamecocks from Alabama overcame a 10-point first-half deficit to tie the game with five minutes left in the first half. They reduced an 18-point USC second-half lead to seven with two minutes remaining.
But both times USC overcame Jacksonville State’s threats. Guard Ramon Galloway’s fourth 3-pointer of the first half sparked a 12-2 run to close the period. A 3-pointer from guard Bruce Ellington, playing with a mildly sprained right ankle, and a dunk by forward Sam Muldrow slowed Jacksonville State’s late comeback.
“Inside those last two minutes, we settled down and did what we needed to do,” USC coach Darrin Horn said. “This is going to be an ongoing process.”
Jacksonville State, which has lost eight straight, could not stick with a taller USC squad on the boards and in the paint. Jacksonville also had to play without its top scorer and rebounder, Nick Murphy, who was not able to get out of New York after the weekend snowstorm.
Galloway, coming off the bench, led the Gamecocks with 15 points. USC’s reserves scored 25 points, their most in the past four games.
Muldrow played aggressively to earned his second double-double of the season with 11 points and 11 rebounds, a game after he was criticized by Horn for a lackluster performance. The coaches wanted to make sure Muldrow got the ball more Wednesday.
“When he makes up his mind that he wants to play like that, he’s going to have a lot of (good) nights,” Horn said.
Muldrow said the defeat at Furman, in which he scored six points and had two rebounds, weighed on him.
Before Wednesday’s win, USC had lost consecutive games at No. 2 Ohio State and at home Furman, its first loss to the Paladins in 30 years. Before that, the Gamecocks had won six straight.
After the Furman loss, the players talked about “being more of a team and playing for each other and flying around for each other,” Galloway said. “The coach got on everybody, (saying) that we have to play with a lot of emotion. That’s who we are.”
In the Hoop
... Horn changed the lineup for the first time this season, with freshman forward Damontre Harris starting in place of junior Malik Cooke, who has struggled with foul trouble recently. They each scored six points and grabbed three rebounds in about 15 minutes of playing time. Horn did not rule out Cooke regaining his starting spot Saturday.
Ellington, the team’s leading scorer, is not expected to miss any practice or playing time with his sprained ankle.
USC went 11-14 from the free-throw line for a season-best 79 percent. The Gamecocks were making 59.8 percent of their free throws entering the game, ranking 333rd among 346 Division I teams.
|JACKSONVILLE ST.||Min||FG M-A||FT M-A||REB O-T||A||PF||PTS|
Percentages: FG .358, FT .455.
3-Point Goals: 6-15, .400 (Miller 3-5, Bougher 1-1, D. Bynum 1-2, J. Bynum 1-6, Jenkins 0-1).
Team Rebounds: 3.
Blocked Shots: 1 (Gray).
Turnovers: 15 (J. Bynum 6, Thurston 2, Miller 2, Cook, Bougher, Jenkins, D. Bynum, Hall).
Steals: 5 (J. Bynum 2, Shellman, Thurston, D. Bynum).
Technical Fouls: None.
|SOUTH CAROLINA||Min||FG M-A||FT M-A||REB O-T||A||PF||PTS|
Percentages: FG .370, FT .786.
3-Point Goals: 5-19, .263 (Galloway 4-7, Ellington 1-4, Spinella 0-1, Smith 0-1, Richardson 0-6).
Team Rebounds: 5.
Blocked Shots: 8 (Muldrow 3, Harris 2, Richardson, Galloway, Jackson).
Turnovers: 19 (Ellington 4, Muldrow 4, Galloway 3, Jackson 2, Slawson 2, Harris, Richardson, Cooke, Jefferson).
Steals: 4 (Muldrow 2, Slawson, Galloway).
Officials: Joe Lindsay, Bert Smith, John Hampton.