South Carolina’s return trip to the Big Apple wasn’t nearly as fun.
The Gamecocks, playing in the same Madison Square Garden that saw their Final Four-clinching win over Florida eight months ago, again showed they’re a new team with a 76-60 loss to Temple on Thursday evening.
USC dropped to 5-2. The Owls improved to 4-1.
Sindarius Thornwell, P.J. Dozier and company – heroes last March in NYC – aren’t around anymore, forcing this 2017-18 team to continue a quest for a new identity.
Thursday night proved the journey is far from over.
The Owls never trailed after the 15:10 mark of the first half, humbling the Gamecocks in their stiffest test of the non-conference season.
“They just outplayed us,” USC coach Frank Martin said in a post-game radio interview on 107.5 The Game, “simple as that.”
Temple shot 48.3 percent from the field and held USC to 37.9, including an ugly 28.6 from 3. The Owls got a game-high 24 points from Quinton Rose and another 20 from Damion Moore.
Carolina didn’t get nearly that kind of production.
A game after having a career night at Florida International (26 points, 10 rebounds), junior forward Chris Silva didn’t score until the 19:21 mark of the second half. Silva had five first half turnovers. He missed his first four shots, getting a couple blocked near the rim.
He finished with just five points on 2 of 10 shooting. He had nine rebounds and committed six of USC’s 17 turnovers.
“Chris, this was as bad a game he’s played since his freshman year,” Martin said.
Silva’s early struggles were reflective of a rough evening for the Gamecocks in the paint. Temple at one point of the first half had 16 points in the paint compared to USC’s 18 total points. Obi Enechionyia, the Owls’ 6-foot-10, 240-pounder, got the better of that matchup. Enechionyia and Moore combined for 15 rebounds and six blocks.
“It all started with Chris,” Martin said. “That’s who we go to on offense, and we went to him.
“The one thing you can’t do against Temple is turn the ball over. They have too many guards. They come at you and they’re hard to guard when your defense is set. They’re impossible to guard in the open court. All we did was give them layups.”
The Gamecocks, who trailed by as many as 23 in the second half, were led by David Beatty’s 13 points.
South Carolina had two stretches lasting at least 3:40 in the first half when it didn’t score. The Gamecocks, flashing the team that went ice-cold in an upset loss to Illinois State earlier this season, missed 14 of their first 20 shots from the floor as Temple led by as many as 16 points.
It took a couple Maik Kotsar 3s – the third and fourth treys of the sophomore’s career – and some inspired play from the Philadelphia native Beatty (nine points) to get USC within 11 at the break. The Gamecocks made five of their final six shots in the first half.
They missed nine of their first 11 shots in the second half.
“That’s why we scheduled this game -- to play Temple -- because we knew that they were gonna be good and that’s the kind of team you got to play in non-conference play to get ready for league play,” Martin said. “Simple as that.”
USC, after three weeks away, returns home Saturday to face Massachusetts. Tipoff from Colonial Life Arena is scheduled for 2 p.m.