USC Men's Basketball

Gamecocks bounce back, roll UTEP in Conway

Frank Martin 'very proud of how our guys responded' in win over UTEP

South Carolina coach Frank Martin addresses the media following USC’s 80-56 win over UTEP in Conway, S.C.
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South Carolina coach Frank Martin addresses the media following USC’s 80-56 win over UTEP in Conway, S.C.

With his eyes on the wing, Hassani Gravett bounced a pass to the elbow for Chris Silva, who leaned into a 15-footer.

The shot rolled off the front rim and into the hoop, furthering South Carolina’s big lead over UTEP on Friday morning. But perhaps more importantly the bucket meant the Gamecocks busted a 2-3 zone.

Remember the ugly details from the Illinois State loss? They were barely a memory less than 24 hours later.

USC rolled the Miners 80-56 at the HTC Center. The Gamecocks (3-1) now face the Western Michigan-Appalachian State winner at 2 p.m. Sunday in the fifth place game of this relocated Puerto Rico Tip-Off tournament.

“Very proud of how our guys responded today,” said Gamecocks coach Frank Martin.

South Carolina shot 46.6 from the floor, including a sizzling 54.8 percent in a 50-point first half. Silva led four Gamecocks in double figures with 15 points. Gravett finished with six points and a career-high nine assists. Freshman Justin Minaya had a career-high 14 points.

The numbers all came in contrast to the offensive egg Carolina laid in the 69-65 loss to ISU on Thursday.

Facing the Redbirds’ active 2-3, the Gamecocks were ice-cold, making less than 30 of their shots. On more than a few possessions Friday, the Miners (1-2) tried a similar defensive strategy and couldn’t deliver a similar result.

“Yeah, they solved it,” said UTEP coach Tim Floyd. “They solved it overnight. They had a helluva film session apparently because they really, really moved the ball against our zone.”

UTEP’s man-to-man look was also ineffective. Carolina, en route to a 26-point halftime lead, assisted on 14 of its 17 field goals.

“We knew as guards we had to drive the seams and kick,” said junior Kory Holden, who finished with 11 points and two assists. “We wanted to play inside-out, get it down to Chris or Maik (Kotsar) or whatever big was in. That way we could get behind the zone and hopefully get a good shot from there or kick back out.

“Coach during walkthrough told us we weren’t really driving the seams like we’re supposed to. So that was a big thing for us that we came in today and did.”

USC’s previous 50-point half came in the second round of the NCAA Tournament against Duke. Only a few of these Gamecocks were around then, making Friday’s effort significant for Martin.

“There were two things in today’s game that said a lot to me about our team,” Martin said. “No. 1 is we came out and played with the energy, the enthusiasm, the discipline defensively and offensively to start the game.

“Then the game settles down and they start making a push and if we were phony, as the game evolved, we would have wilted into who we really were yesterday. But that’s not who we are. So when they made the push, we settled down, we locked in and then we extended the game even more.

“We’re all still trying to figure each other out.”

The Gamecocks forced more UTEP turnovers (23) than they allowed Miner field goals (19).

It was enough domination for Martin to comfortably clear his bench before it ended. Freshman center and Myrtle Beach native Jason Cudd scored two points and grabbed three rebounds in six minutes.

“We’re all in this together,” Martin said. “We’re into trying to figure out who we become as a team. And you don’t become whoever you are in November. November’s just a chapter into you becoming the team that you’re going to be in March.”