It wasn’t perfect, and it really wasn’t pretty. But it restored what South Carolina wants to be.
Which, most importantly, is a winning basketball team.
The No. 19 Gamecocks rebounded from their first loss of the season with an 81-72 victory over Missouri on Saturday, surviving a lights-out performance from Wes Clark and the worst-shooting team in the SEC.
USC (16-1, 3-1 SEC) allowed the Tigers to convert 49.1 percent of their shots, and while it made 45.2 percent of its, the way it went about it was anything but comfortable.
Yet the Gamecocks won, improving to 3-1 in the league for the first time since 2011 and setting a program record for the fastest 16 wins by calendar date. They needed to show a loss at Alabama was one bad night more than anything fundamentally flawed, and did so – mostly.
“We got back in character today,” USC coach Frank Martin said. “(Missing shots) would kind of break our spirit for a couple of possessions and that would break us down defensively. I thought we weren’t great, but I thought we played more to who we are.”
The Gamecocks aren’t going to blow past an opponent by straight talent, and rely on defense and free throws to win games. Their defense remains a work in progress after the Tigers (8-9, 1-3) burned them in transition and outpaced them 19-10 in fast-break points. After two straight games of collapsing on drivers into the lane and watching possessions become kick-outs for 3-pointers, USC stayed with its men – and center Ryan Rosburg scored 12 on 6-of-6 shooting, using a one-handed layup past the defense every time.
Yet a 7-0 run to start the game that featured five Mizzou turnovers established a lead the Gamecocks never lost. Although it was cut to one before halftime, and was almost completely in single digits throughout the second half, USC always re-discovered a working offensive play to stay ahead.
Sindarius Thornwell scored 22 points, while P.J. Dozier had 11 and Laimonas Chatkevicius 10. There’s still a lot to work on – a 3-of-21 3-point performance and bricking 11 free throws kept the game in permanent avoidance of being put away.
“We slacked off on defense,” Thornwell said. “We weren’t pressuring the ball like we were the first two minutes of the game.”
USC ended with a 15-rebound advantage and forced 16 turnovers, with seven steals and five blocked shots. But they left a lot to improve on, especially those stretches where they were about to put the Tigers to sleep and then took the next three minutes off.
But a win helped restored confidence and a spot in the top half of the SEC.
“When we play well, we play hard and compete,” Martin said. “We needed to get back to ourselves.”
NOTE: Sophomore guard Marcus Stroman did not play with concussion-related symptoms. Stroman received three stitches for a cut on his forehead after the Alabama game and began feeling bad two days ago.
He’ll be re-tested on Sunday to see if he could potentially play on Tuesday.
Thornwell swiped a ball and headed upcourt, with Duane Notice running alongside. The fast-break was fouled up as the ball was bobbled around, until Notice ended up with it, laying on his stomach. Somehow he flipped it to the trailing Chris Silva, who dunked it.
The two points put the Tigers down enough to where a late rally couldn’t save them.
Star of the game: Thornwell was the most consistent player USC had on either end. He was 7-of-13 from the field, missed just one free throw and had five rebounds, four assists and three steals.
Play of the game: Chris Silva’s dunk drew as many sighs of relief as it did applause from the crowd.
Stat of the game: The Gamecocks had 21 second-chance points to Mizzou’s five.
FROM THE BASELINE
Stro: That’s how important Marcus Stroman is. Dozier continues to have careless turnovers, with four (to one assist) on Saturday, and three fouls. While Notice was prepped to play PG and did well, he also had his worst shooting day of the season (2-of-10).
Mc Attack: Justin McKie played 13 minutes at two-guard, helping fill the void as Notice went to the point. While he was as active as ever and had an assist, steal and turnover, he missed all three shots from the field, including on a fast break where he somehow passed back to Notice.
Who: South Carolina at Ole Miss
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday
Where: The Pavilion at Ole Miss, Oxford, Miss.
TV: SEC Network
Follow on Twitter at @DCTheState
Phillips 1-2 0-0 3, Wright 3-9 1-2 9, Clark 10-16 2-3 26, Puryear 0-1 2-2 2, Woods 0-2 1-2 1, Isabell 3-8 2-2 8, Allen 4-5 0-0 8, Walton 0-3 0-0 0, Gant 1-3 1-2 3, VanLeer 0-2 0-0 0, Rosburg 6-6 0-0 12. Totals 28-57 9-13 72.
SOUTH CAROLINA (16-1)
Thornwell 7-13 6-7 22, Chatkevicius 4-8 2-4 10, Dozier 4-9 3-4 11, Carrera 1-7 5-6 7, Kacinas 6-8 2-4 14, Notice 2-10 1-2 6, McKie 0-3 2-4 2, Cobb 0-0 0-0 0, Silva 4-4 1-2 9. Totals 28-62 22-33 81.
Halftime_South Carolina 41-34. 3-Point Goals_Missouri 7-19 (Clark 4-6, Wright 2-5, Phillips 1-2, Walton 0-1, VanLeer 0-2, Isabell 0-3), South Carolina 3-21 (Thornwell 2-6, Notice 1-6, Dozier 0-1, Kacinas 0-1, McKie 0-1, Carrera 0-6). Fouled Out_Rosburg. Rebounds_Missouri 26 (Allen, Clark 6), South Carolina 41 (Chatkevicius, Dozier 7). Assists_Missouri 17 (Clark 8), South Carolina 12 (Thornwell 4). Total Fouls_Missouri 24, South Carolina 15. Attendance_15,389.