The game accomplished what it was supposed to – South Carolina got to see how it looked in a game atmosphere, and Benedict treated its numerous fans to a game in a big-time environment.
No one was putting too much into the final score, although the Gamecocks were pleased that they overwhelmed the Tigers 92-47 in their exhibition game on Sunday.
“We’re more mature, we’re stronger,” coach Frank Martin said. “That’s what happens when you got experience on the team.”
Benedict fans, in town for Homecoming, stuck around after Saturday’s football game to catch their Tigers in action on the court. Picked to win their conference, the Tigers thought they might show USC a thing or two, especially when the Gamecocks only dressed nine due to injuries.
USC quickly ended that hope.
Playing a team with similar height, the Gamecocks dominated the paint and forced the Tigers to shoot from the outside. A speed-laced team, designed to fast-break the opponent to death, Benedict was knocked out of its gameplan from the start due to USC’s control inside.
“Too much athleticism to overcome,” Benedict coach Fred Watson mourned. “We weren’t used to that speed, that athleticism and size.”
The Gamecocks blocked nine shots and affected several more, bigs Laimonas Chatkevicius, Mindaugas Kacinas, Michael Carrera and Demetrius Henry standing in the paint with arms up and waiting for the contact. They didn’t aggressively try to alter the shot; they let the Tigers run into them as they stood their ground, then grabbed the caroms to start their own fast breaks.
“Just experience. That’s all it is,” Martin said. “Guys understand what we’ve been preaching. We’re in a better place as a team, and it’s all because we’ve got experience.”
Benedict shot a miserable 13-for-69 and were out-rebounded the Tigers 61-31. Trailing 55-24 at the half, Watson remained on the bench for a short while as his team headed to the locker room, as if he knew encouraging words would only do so much.
The game was mostly for entertainment purposes, but USC learned what it could.
One, Ty Johnson is fully recovered from last year’s foot injury, scoring a team-high 23 points despite a leg cramp at the half. Two, Carrera is back to his fearless freshman-year self – he scored five points but hauled in 15 boards.
Three, the Gamecocks might be small and might be short-handed if they don’t soon get some good news on the injury front, but they are much more mature than the freshman-stocked squad they were last year. They’re stronger, quicker and ready to take on anybody.
“I felt great,” Johnson said, discussing the broken foot that cost him half of last season. “That made (my teammates) grow. That made them be better for this year.”
Five USC players finished in double figures, and if there was one aspect to harp on, it was turnovers. The Gamecocks had 15, seven from freshman point guard Marcus Stroman, and forced 13.
“He was nervous out of his mind,” Martin dismissed. “Stroman’s going to be real good for us.”
Martin saw what he wanted to see and Colonial Life Arena was electric. The Gamecocks announced a crowd of 10,011.
“How about that for a city that don’t care about basketball?,” Martin quipped. “We’ve got awesome fans. Having a game like this, you tell me how that’s not awesome for our community.”