South Carolina’s new playing style appears to suit Destanni Henderson just fine.
The freshman guard scored 13 points as the No. 10 Gamecocks rolled Lander, 100-62, in an exhibition game Friday evening at Colonial Life Arena. Henderson’s stat line — which also included six assists and two steals — was one thing, but it was her pace that lined up perfectly with a USC bunch that played publicly for the the first time without A’ja Wilson.
“I’m used to playing fast,” Henderson said. “So the style, it just flows. So when Coach says to play fast, I’m all for it.”
Dawn Staley’s Gamecocks want to run this season. They no longer have the dominant inside presence of a three-time All-American and SEC Player of the Year. Instead, Carolina’s ushering in a post-Wilson world with a variety of speedy guards.
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Henderson, USC’s first McDonald’s All-American signee since Wilson, headlined the attack Friday. She got assistance from fellow newcomer Te’a Cooper (Tennessee transfer) and a couple veterans in Tyasha Harris and Bianca Jackson.
Cooper, with 20 points, led seven Gamecocks in double-figures. Harris followed with 16, Jackson, Williams and Mikiah Herbert Harrigan had 11 each and Victaria Saxton added 10.
A sign of the new style? After averaging 59 field goal attempts a game last season, USC took 86 shots Friday. Cooper was eight of 18 from the field.
“We want to force the pace a lot more than we have in the past,” Staley said. “Obviously we’ve got some really young post players that we don’t want for our opponents to pick on in a half-court set. So if we can turn some people over early in their offense, it’s only going to help us to get easy buckets at the basket.”
USC scored 35 points off Lander’s 29 turnovers.
Henderson scored 10 points in 10 first half minutes. Her downhill approach got her to the free throw lines six times in the stretch. Cooper, paired with Henderson in the early going, completed a personal 4-0 run — a mid-range jumper followed by a steal and layup — to give the Gamecocks a 10-point lead with 1:34 left in the first quarter.
“With Ty and Destanni pushing tempo and being creative, sharing the ball, pushing the ball down the floor,” Staley said, “it will help alleviate some of the pressures of having to score in the half-court for us.”
USC’s advantage grew to as many as 13 in the first half, but Lander, a Division II team that won 25 games last season, didn’t go down easily. The Bearcats were within five with 7:43 left in the second quarter and trailed by only 10 at halftime.
Staley went back to four of her starters — Harris, Jackson, Doniyah Cliney and Mikiah Herbert Harrigan — to spark a second half run-away. Harris saved six of her points for a third quarter that saw the Carolina lead grow to as many as 23. The period ended with a Cooper layup after a long dish from Henderson.
The Gamecocks outscored the Bearcats, 49-21, over the final 20 minutes.
“I love the style,” Harris said. “I love position-less basketball, I love running up and down the floor. We create offense from our defense.”
USC, which was playing minus preseason All-SEC forward Alexis Jennings, begins the regular season at Alabama State on Nov. 11.