Keyshawn Bryant saw an opening and attacked. With an extra day of rest, energy was flowing out of South Carolina’s electric freshman on the game’s opening possession. He elevated over a taller Missouri defender and tried throwing down on the 6-foot-10 Jeremiah Tilmon. The dunk attempt missed, but Colonial Life Arena appreciated the effort — and got the message.
The new-look Gamecocks were on display Sunday in front of their best crowd of the year. A late schedule change didn’t stop the momentum of one of the SEC’s hottest teams.
USC asserted itself as the aggressor early and often en route to an 85-75 win over Mizzou.
“That’s a good win for us,” said Carolina coach Frank Martin. “That’s a good win in a hard, physical game.”
The Gamecocks (8-7 overall) have won four straight games and are off to a 3-0 start in league play for the second time in three years — and only third time since they joined the SEC nearly three decades ago.
Five Carolina players reached double figures in scoring, including a team-high 15 from Bryant. USC shot 51 percent from the field, fractions off a season-high. No makes were more important than back-to-back 3s from Felipe Haase and A.J. Lawson after Missouri had trimmed the lead to three late in the second half.
The Tigers (9-5, 0-2 SEC) were held to five points over the final 3:13.
“We didn’t rebound on the defensive end,” Martin said, “but somehow, someway, with the game in the balance, we came up with some hard defensive rebounds, and then obviously Felipe and A.J. make those two 3s that allowed us to take a deep breath.”
The Gamecocks led by as many as 13 in the second half. But Missouri whittled it to a one-possession game on three occasions. After a Javon Pickett free throw cut things to 65-62 with 7:54 left, USC responded with six straight points, two from Chris Silva and four from Bryant.
That senior-rookie tandem was huge down the stretch. Silva, who helped Tilmon foul out less than four minutes into the second half, had freedom to dominate the paint. He finished with 14 points and four blocks.
“I’m just playing my game,” Silva said. “Whenever somebody gets physical with me, I get physical too. I try to be physical all the time.
“Coming into this game, we knew (Tilmon’s) a physical guy, so Coach told us to not mess around with it and just try to stick to the game plan. That’s what I did.”
Bryant scored 12 in the final period. His near-highlight in the first half only led to free throws, but it set a tone that carried over for the next 39 minutes.
“I saw the guy cheated the screen, and I just cut back and tried to make the play,” Bryant said. “That play really helped us a lot. We had a big crowd, I want to thank the crowd for coming out. Me making that dunk would have riled the gym up and kept the energy going.”
Announced attendance of 12,747 made Sunday the best showing of USC supporters since 14,000-plus showed for a win over No. 10 Auburn last February.
“Our fans, 11th hour, change of schedule, and they showed up,” Martin said. “And they were great. They gave us that personality to go fight for that home court.”
A 12-0 run in the first half put South Carolina ahead by 11 with 3:45 to play. The stretch featured Alanzo Frink’s best moments of his young SEC career.
Relieving a foul troubled Maik Kotsar, the freshman Frink scored six points, had two rebounds and a block in a one-minute, 46-second span. Frink logged eight first half minutes after a combined two minutes in games against Florida and Mississippi State.
Missouri, which made as many as 3-pointers (seven) as 2s in the first half, used perimeter shooting to cut the advantage to six at the break.
The Tigers, who didn’t get to Columbia, S.C., until Saturday due to a Midwest winter storm, were led by Pickett’s 21 points. They went 10 of 23 from beyond the arc.
Stat of the game: Senior guard Hassani Gravett scored 12 points — without making a field goal. Gravett went 12 of 12 from the free throw line.
The Gamecocks made more FTs (29) than the Tigers attempted (23).
Another injury: Add Jason Cudd to the list.
The 7-foot-1 center is out “indefinitely” after suffering a left knee injury during a Saturday practice. The sophomore was unavailable Sunday and will likely become the fifth USC scholarship player to miss at least two games this season because of injury, joining T.J. Moss, Justin Minaya, Alanzo Frink and Maik Kotsar.
“The good news is, structurally, everything is intact,” Martin said. “But he’s out for a while.”
Cudd has appeared in five games this season. He’s yet to score.
Tilmon 2-5 0-0 4, Puryear 3-7 2-3 9, Ma.Smith 3-7 5-5 14, Pickett 7-11 4-4 21, Geist 5-12 3-6 14, M.Smith 0-0 0-0 0, Nikko 1-2 2-3 4, Santos 1-3 0-0 2, Watson 2-7 1-2 7, Suggs 0-0 0-0 0, Pinson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-54 17-23 75.
SOUTH CAROLINA (8-7)
Bryant 7-9 1-4 15, Silva 4-7 6-7 14, Kotsar 1-2 2-3 4, Lawson 4-10 1-1 11, Campbell 3-7 0-0 8, Haase 3-4 6-6 14, Frink 3-4 1-2 7, Gravett 0-6 12-12 12, Hinson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-49 29-35 85.
Halftime: South Carolina 42-36. 3-Point Goals: Missouri 10-23 (Pickett 3-4, Ma.Smith 3-6, Watson 2-5, Puryear 1-1, Geist 1-6, Santos 0-1), South Carolina 6-19 (Haase 2-3, Campbell 2-3, Lawson 2-6, Bryant 0-1, Silva 0-1, Frink 0-1, Gravett 0-4). Fouled Out: Tilmon. Rebounds: Missouri 25 (Watson 6), South Carolina 27 (Kotsar 7). Assists: Missouri 11 (Geist 5), South Carolina 12 (Lawson 4). Total Fouls: Missouri 26, South Carolina 24. A: 12,747 (18,000).
Who: South Carolina at Vanderbilt
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Memorial Gymnasium in Nashville
TV: SEC Network