USC Tops Drexel, 79-54

By: USC SID

COLUMBIA, S.C. — The South Carolina men’s basketball team is 9-0 for the first time in 44 years, after a big second half carried it to a 79-54 win over Drexel (1-7) Tuesday night. Freshman PJ Dozier led the team with 16 points, and the team poured in 47 second-half points to put away a game that was tight throughout the first half.

The Gamecocks’ 6-2 lead to start the game was soon slowed by fouls and turnovers, most notably two offensive fouls on Laimonas Chatkevicius in just three minutes of action. The Dragons took over a 9-6 lead after four minutes of action after using a 7-0 run in a span of just under two minutes and would carry the lead for the most of the next 10 minutes of play. The lead was helped in large part by a 3-of-3 start from 3-point range and a 50 percent field goal percentage in the first nine minutes of play.

Chris Silva helped keep the fans at Colonial Life Arena excited, first with a big block to deny a fast-break dunk, then later with a dunk of his own to cut the deficit to 17-15. Drexel would build its largest lead at 21-15, but Carolina earned the lead back down the stretch thanks to a lockdown at both ends of the court.

Immediately after going down by six, the Gamecocks went on an 11-0 run in the next three minutes to flip the scoreboard with a 26-21 advantage. It was punctuated by a 3-pointer from Chatkevicius, forcing Drexel into a timeout with 5:18 to go. For those remaining five minutes, the two teams combined for just a 3-of-13 effort from the floor and the Gamecocks were able to hold on for a 32-28 lead at halftime.

After a 6-of-12 start from the field, Drexel converted just 3-of-14 (21 percent) the rest of the way but still hit four 3s to keep within striking distance. Most of Carolina’s damage would be done at the line, the Gamecocks attempted just two fewer free throws than field goals in the first half, thanks in large part to 14 fouls called on the Dragons. PJ Dozier alone would convert 9-of-13 at the charity stripe to lead the team in scoring at 13.

The Gamecocks scored nine points in the final 5:18 of the 1st half, but needed just the first 63 seconds of the second half to score another nine and take control of the game. Extra passes on the team’s first two possessions led to wide-open 3s from Mindaugas Kacinas and Sindarius Thornwell, and Dozier converted a three-point play on the very next possession to force a timeout.

Faced with its largest deficit of the game at 43-28, Drexel continued a cold streak that plagued it in in the final 10 minutes of the first half. The visitors went without a made field goal for the first five minutes of the second half, missing on its first 10 attempts and also coming up empty on three free throw tries.

The Dragons would get on the board with a basket at the 14:40 mark, but foul trouble up and down the lineup kept them from from putting out a consistent rotation on the floor. Despite facing a Drexel full-court press for most of the half, the Gamecocks seemed to be unfazed and passed their way to a number of easy transition baskets and soon found themselves ahead by 20, 61-41, with eight minutes still to play.

The lead would peak at 25 on the game’s final basket, a TeMarcus Blanton 3-pointer. All told, the Gamecocks shot 67 percent in the second half and spread the wealth on offense. Seven different players would score five points or more, led by six apiece from Blanton, Chatkevicius and Thornwell.

GAMECHANGER

The Gamecock defense held Drexel without a point for the first 5:20 of the second half, taking an 11-0 run that turned a tight 32-28 halftime score into a 43-28 advantage. Drexel made just one field goal in 16 attempts over a span that lasted from the 2:15 mark in the first half until 11:08 was left in the game. The Dragons scored from the field on back-to-back possessions just four times in the game.

KEY STAT

Despite losing the turnover battle, the Gamecocks outscored Drexel on points off turnovers for the game, 18-2. In the team’s last three wins, Carolina is outscoring opponents by 15.6 points per game in the category despite being just plus-six in turnovers in that span.

UP NEXT

South Carolina travels to face Clemson on Friday in Greenville, S.C., at Bon Secours Arena. The meeting is the 166th all-time between the two instate rivals. South Carolina posted a 68-45 win over the Tigers in Columbia last season.

NOTABLE

  • The team’s 9-0 start matches the program’s best start to a season, now tied with the 1970-71 team. When that team won its ninth game on Jan. 2, 1971, “Knock Three Times” by Tony Orlando and Dawn topped the music charts in America and “The Exorcist” had just debuted in book form.
  • It is now the program’s longest win streak since 1996-97, when it would ultimately win 12 straight.
  • After tonight’s 47-point outburst in the second half, the Gamecocks are now averaging 42.1 points in the second half so far this season.
  • PJ Dozier’s 16 free throw attempts in the game were the most by any Gamecock since Brenton Williams also had 16 against Kentucky on March 1, 2014. The last Gamecock to attempt more in a single game was when Mike Boynton had 19 against Arkansas on March 11 of 2004.
  • Carolina shot 39 free throws in the game, 20 more than Drexel. Through nine games this season, the Gamecocks are averaging 30 free throw attempts per game compared to 20.4 for opponents.
  • Drexel’s 22 total rebounds are a season low by a Carolina opponent. The Gamecocks enjoyed a plus-19 margin on the boards thanks in large part to a 21-9 advantage in the second half alone.
  • Tuesday night was the third time in the last six games that the team shot 50 percent or better from 3-point range, Thanks to a 5-of-7 effort in the second half, Carolina finished 6-of-12 from deep.

QUOTABLE: HEAD COACH FRANK MARTIN

Opening statement
“That was a good win. They played well. I felt really bad for number 24, Rodney Williams, on their team (Drexel). Coming into the game he was averaging 13.5 rebounds a game over the last three games. I felt real bad for him. But I was real proud of our guys. First game after final exams, it’s always difficult because you don’t get to practice as consistently and in detail as you need to. I thought the early part of the game showed that lack of flow from us. They’re a very physical team, so we got caught fouling early in the game. I think as the game progressed we did a better job of adapting back to game speed and all those things that you have to be used to. [In the second half] we rebounded the ball better, we passed it better, and we made some shots. That’s the elixir for bad offense, when guys jump up and make 3s. We couldn’t make layups in the first half. First two possessions of the second half we go 3, 3, three-point play and that made a big difference.”

Categories: Local Sports, South Carolina Sports, Sports, USC Gamecocks