For roughly a minute, it was close: Seventy-eight seconds into the first quarter Friday, defending national champion South Carolina was tied 2-2 with Division II Coker.
Then … things got out of hand.
Dawn Staley’s Gamecocks don’t seem likely to lack on offense this season, thrashing the Cobras 116-56 at Colonial Life Arena in their only exhibition game of the preseason.
After that 2-2 tie, USC went on a 40-4 run to close the first quarter, with the starting unit of forward A’ja Wilson, forward Alexis Jennings, guard Tyasha Harris, guard Lindsey Spann and guard Doniyah Cliney blowing past Coker and scoring seemingly at will.
While there were some concerns about the departure of three high-scoring starters from last season, Spann quickly assuaged them, going 6-for-6 from the field with a perfect 5-for-5 mark from 3 in the early going. She ended the game with 27 points on 8-of-11 shooting to lead all scorers.
“My teammates definitely found me, I just sprinted to open spots and I made sure I was moving,” Spann said. “Ty did a great job finding me, kick outs, in transition, things like that, and I just happened to knock down open shots.”
Cliney and Jennings also put together strong performances, with Cliney swiping three steals, gathering two rebounds and contributing four assists and 10 points, while Jennings had 12 points, four steals and four rebounds.
The two returners, Wilson and Harris, combined for 26 points, seven assists and seven rebounds.
After that explosive first quarter, however, South Carolina seemed to let up a little, outscoring Coker 74 to 50 the rest of the way.
After the game, both Harris and Staley cited the team’s defensive performance as an area for improvement before the Gamecocks open up their regular season Nov. 10 against Alabama State.
“Obviously, something that we need to get better on is our defense,” Staley said. “We’ve got to figure out how we compete a little bit better, how we come up with loose balls, how we block out and not give up so many offensive rebounds.”
Throughout the game, Staley experimented with all sorts of lineup combinations, rotating in every player on her roster for at least 11 minutes. However, she did say the starting five were likely to remain the same heading into the season.
Off the bench, sophomore forward Mikiah Herbert Harrigan led the way for South Carolina’s second unit, collecting 19 points and a team-high six rebounds to continue a strong stretch of play that began last year during the SEC championship.
“From an offensive standpoint, I do think she can really make an impact,” Staley said of Herbert Harrigan. “It’s her defense that kills me. But, you know, she’s just a sophomore. She made an impact at the end of the season and she’s carrying that on to her sophomore year.”