Coming out of the holiday break, South Carolina looked far from flawless and and more than just a bit rusty, but the Gamecocks held on for a 66-53 win over Furman in their final game before conference play.
USC (8-4) has now won four games in a row, but coach Dawn Staley and her team hardly seemed in a celebratory mood after mixing stretches of dominant play with several exceedingly sloppy ones.
“That’s what we talked about in the locker room and after the game,” junior guard and captain Tyasha Harris said. “Just not having dry spells and continuing our stretches and runs and we just got to figure out the flow and continue to flow.”
From the get go, the Gamecocks looked like a team that hadn’t played in nine days and needed some time to knock off the rust — Furman took an early 6-2 lead, aided by three USC turnovers in two and a half minutes.
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“Do what you can see. If you can’t see it, don’t do it. That’s basically it,” Staley said of her message to the team on such stretches of play.
But every poor string Sunday was accompanied by a surge from the Gamecocks, who mounted runs of 8-0, 9-0, 7-0 and 10-1 throughout the game. Most of those runs were powered by redshirt senior forward Alexis Jennings, who tied her season high with 19 points, and the rest of South Carolina’s interior game — two-thirds of the team’s points came in the paint or at the 3-point line.
“That was one of our keys to win the game. Points in the paint was one of our main (emphases) and we worked on it three days in a row,” Jennings said. “I’m just grateful my teammates were able to give me the ball tonight.”
On the perimeter, however, Furman’s zone defense closed out aggressively to deny the Gamecocks looks from 3. A game after USC made a season-high 15 3-pointers against Temple, it shot just 4-for-15 from beyond the arc.
Yet Staley’s main frustration was with her team’s lack of communication, along with a tendency to over-complicate things.
“Simplifying is communicating. If you communicate what you see, it’ll help other people. I just thought we just lacked communication ... we lacked calling out screens. The people that were in position to make easy plays, they lacked calling it out to the person with the ball,” Staley said.
Carolina turned the ball over 18 times on the afternoon, often on passes into traffic. Furman also out-rebounded the Gamecocks, 37-33, fueled by 17 offensive boards. Those statistics were emblematic of the Paladins’ hunger, Staley said.
“We’re a Power 5 and they’re a mid-major, and in order for you to sometimes beat a Power 5 as a mid-major, you have to equal the playing field some way, and they chose to do it in the intangibles, the 50-50 balls, the hustle plays, the going after rebounds, the extra possessions,” Staley said. “They put themselves in a position to win the basketball game doing those things.”
South Carolina won, though, with a strong second half of shooting — 52 percent from the field — and by frustrating Furman with a full-court press that slowed the pace of the game and also helped to force 21 Paladin turnovers.
In total, 10 Gamecocks scored and freshman guard Destanni Henderson scored five of her 10 points in the game’s final minute to ice the victory.
Star of the game: Alexis Jennings was simply bigger and stronger than most Furman players, and for the most part, she really didn’t make it any more complicated than that. Staley said her solid play as of late has been the result of better health.
“The fact that she’s getting more healthy, she can a lot more things out there on the floor,” Staley said. “Midrange looks nice, it’s nice and smooth, it’s not rushed. When she gets it close in the paint, she’s automatic with two feet in the paint; she’s gonna score or she’s gonna get fouled.”
Stat of the game: Furman made just 36.1 percent of its shots from the field, and more than 18 percent of its shots were blocked by Carolina, who tallied 11 swats on the day.
Play of the game: With the lead down to six and 2:13 left to play, Furman called timeout. The move backfired, as South Carolina collected itself and went on a 10-3 run to end the game, led by Jennings and Henderson.
South Carolina opens SEC play on Thursday at Texas A&M, where the Gamecocks will play last year’s national freshman of the year, Chennedy Carter, and the Aggies at 9 p.m. on the SEC Network.