After three losses in four games, South Carolina needed some good news before starting SEC play.
They got it Tuesday in a 91-56 rout of S.C. State — where for the first time all season the Gamecocks kept extending a first-half lead through the final buzzer.
The Bulldogs (4-9) tried to outrace the Gamecocks (9-4) to start the game and constantly changed defenses while swarming the basket on offense. That kept the score close with USC up 20-19 with nine minutes left in the first half.
But South Carolina ended the first half with a 24-3 run behind nine points by guard Bruce Ellington and four rebounds and two blocks by forward Sam Muldrow. The Gamecocks led 44-22 at the half and opened the second half by scoring on their first eight possessions.
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Guard Brian Richardson connected on three 3-pointers during the stretch to recover from a two-game shooting slump.
“We probably needed a game like this heading into league play,” USC coach Darrin Horn said. “When we head into the league everything gets ramped up, without question — and we have maybe the best team in our league (No. 22 Vanderbilt) in terms of how they’re playing coming in Saturday.”
Richardson and Lakeem Jackson led the Gamecocks with 17 points each. All of Richardson’s points, which were a career high, came in the second half. He had made two of 16 attempts in USC’s past two games.
“I’m just getting my confidence back,” Richardson said. The freshman said the slump came from, “Just being kind of down.”
Muldrow, who failed to score against Boston College on Saturday, got his third double-double of the season with 15 points and 11 rebounds. He also blocked six shots.
USC put away the game during a period that had been a sore spot this season: closing out the first half. But by outrebounding S.C. State 15-6 and blocking four shots over the final portion of the half, the Gamecocks outscored the Bulldogs by 20 points.
Another first-half key: USC had a 15-3 edge in second-chance points.
“We were running fast, everybody was getting out in the break and our defense was more sharp,” Jackson said.
Then the Gamecocks kept extending the lead, which reached 38 points late in the second half. USC has not put together two strong halves this season — Elon, Radford, Wofford and Jacksonville State all outscored South Carolina in the second half this season, while USC needed big second-half performances in victories against USC Upstate and Delaware State.
“If you take good shots and give yourself a chance to score and don’t give them easy baskets, then you’ve got a chance to do that,” Horn said. “I think sometimes it’s hard for young people, they starting looking at what happened last play and (they have to) keep grinding it out over and over.”
In the Hoop
... South Carolina finished nonconference play with the same number of wins as last season.
USC’s 15 blocks were one shy of the school record set in 2009 against Kentucky.
Muldrow needs 44 blocks to set the school career record.
Jackson surpassed his free-throw total for last year by going 4-for-5 from the line. He’s made 19 free throws this year after making 16 last season.
Brian Richardson, Lakeem Jackson
|S. CAROLINA ST.||Min||FG M-A||FT M-A||REB O-T||A||PF||PTS|
Percentages: FG .344, FT .625.
3-Point Goals: 2-11, .182 (Sanders 1-1, Porter 1-4, Williams 0-1, Ikhinmwin 0-1, Riley 0-1, Bennett 0-3).
Team Rebounds: 4.
Blocked Shots: 4 (Bell 2, Pitt, Sanders).
Turnovers: 18 (Bennett 5, Porter 3, Williams 3, Pitt 2, Ikhinmwin 2, Sanders, Bell, Toombs).
Steals: 5 (Bennett 2, Williams, Telfare, Porter).
Technical Fouls: Toombs.
|SOUTH CAROLINA||Min||FG M-A||FT M-A||REB O-T||A||PF||PTS|
Percentages: FG .532, FT .682.
3-Point Goals: 10-24, .417 (Richardson 5-8, Ellington 2-4, Spinella 1-1, Jackson 1-1, Muldrow 1-3, Slawson 0-1, Smith 0-1, Cooke 0-1, Galloway 0-4).
Team Rebounds: 4.
Blocked Shots: 15 (Muldrow 6, Harris 5, Jefferson, Slawson, Cooke, Jackson).
Turnovers: 16 (Galloway 3, Richardson 3, Ellington 2, Harris 2, Slawson 2, Jackson 2, Smith 2).
Steals: 8 (Smith 2, Cooke 2, Richardson, Ellington, Muldrow, Galloway).
Technical Fouls: Galloway.
Officials: Mike Kitts, Rick Hartzell, Karl Hess.