Well, Daddy took a short nap just before tonight's 7:00 p.m. tip-off, and was blissfully relieved of having to endure the Presbyterian College Blue Hose earn a 25-19 half time lead (yes - just 19 points off 7-29 shooting). After I woke up, l stumbled across the game televised on SportsSouth [thanks Post & Courier for failing to mention the game would be on TV - or should I blame the Sports Information department for not getting the word out?]. In any event, I got to watch from the beginning of the second half.
Moments in, I was sure I'd have to turn the game off or face a myocardial infarction ... back-to-back turn-overs by the Cocks.
Then, as if by magic, USC took control ... 5 for 5 from the floor. It was like a switch was turned on for Bruce Ellington - he was masterful at the point ... beating PC's press ... dishing the ball .... stretching the floor .... being a shot creator. In other words, he was playing Darrin Horn basketball the way it was meant to be played ... up-tempo and fast and stretching the floor on both defense and offense The rest of the team seemed to respond. Cooke (who just graduated on Saturday - congrats!) was great on the boards. Slawson had a monster block at 13:58. Before you knew it, we were off to a 14-0 run. It wasn't that P.C. folded. The Blue Hose played tough defense and crisp passing - they had their looks. But the Cocks played well defensively inside the paint and at the perimeter, and earned the lion's share of the boards as a result.
Let's just pretend the first half didn't happen. Damontre, Cooke and Jackson all played great around the basketball .. Gill had a decent night but still needs to ratchet up the aggression level ... Jackson is a natural 3G/SF and needs to be on the floor more. I'm convinced now that my earlier thought of having Ellington play the 2G is incorrect - he is a natural creator at the point (not perfect - he failed to see some easy inside passes, but that is to be expected in his third game back). You could see the confidence oozing into the Gamecocks ... Damien Leonard off the bench hit two beautiful three-pointers at 8:50 and 7:43.
The game was over after the Cocks came out of time-out at 4:42, and Malik Cooke hit a big three off a set play from the corner to take us to 60-48. A well-coached and upperclassmen-heavy P.C. squad did their level best to make a push at the end (a la their early-season upset win at Cincinnati), but the Cocks refused to give in even after a pair of Blue Hose three-pointers: Jackson and Gill had clutch inside shots, and USC controlled the offensive and defensive boards. At the three-minute mark, a sweet drive by Ellington - dishing to a driving Cooke - who found Slawson for the lay-in ... pretty much sealed it. Ellington was able to slow the game down after that, and PC never got closer than 8 before the game ended with an 11 point USC advantage.
The USC player of the game has to be Bruce Ellington - coming off the bench for 15 points in 25 minutes, shooting 6-14 from the floor and 2-4 from the charity stripe, and only two turn-overs. Really, the numbers fail to illustrate just how much his athleticism, creativity and moxy lifted the team. Cooke had 14 points and 4 boards on his first game as a graduate, and Gill had 10 points and 8 boards. Also noteworthy were Lakeem Jackson, 3-4 from the floor, and Damien Leonard 3-5 from the floor (2-2 from three-point range) in 10 minutes. Great shot selection was the order of the day in the second half.
A big win. And a fun half to watch. PC has a very good club: the Blue Hose are going to make a statement in the Big South. But best of all ... we shot 70% from the floor in the second half. If we can play like this against Ohio State on Saturday ... and if we can get a crowd out to the Colonial Life Center ... then we have a proverbial puncher's chance.