After the Gamecocks opened the conference season with six straight losses - four of which came by less than 10 points - some wondered if Carolina was simply too young to win close games. That question may remain in the minds of some, but one thing's for sure - on the right night, they can win a blowout.
South Carolina finally got the monkey off its back, running away with an emphatic 80-52 win over Texas A&M on Wednesday night in snowy Columbia, their biggest SEC win since a 94-60 victory in Knoxville in the 2002 season. The win moves the Gamecocks to 8-12 on the season, and 1-6 in conference play.
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You don't win by 28 points without a lot of things going right, and nearly everything went the Gamecocks' way on Wednesday. Carolina beat the Aggies in every aspect of the game. Aside from turning the ball over more than you'd like to see on offense, the Gamecocks played nearly flawlessly.
Frank Martin's team got offense from all over the court. Five players took more than two field goals on the night, and they each scored at least 9 points and shot relatively efficiently. As normally is the case, the guards led USC, with Sindarius Thornwell and Duane Notice each scoring 19 points (a career high for the Canadian), while Brenton Williams added 18 points as well. Notice did struggle once again with turnovers (5), but on a night where he went 6-8 from the field and 6-6 from the line, it's easy to overlook that and instead see how he can become a huge part of this program's future.
Laimonas Chatkevicius tied his career-high point total as well on Wednesday, scoring 12 points on 5-6 shooting from the field, along with 3 rebounds (though also 3 turnovers) in his 20 minutes. Even the lowest of the five scorers, Michael Carrera, was 2-6 from the field, but atoned by going 5-6 from the line to become that 9-point scorer. In short, Carolina had scoring options all over the floor and was not overly-reliant on any single player or position in scoring 1.212 points per possession, the best per-possession offensive performance an opponent has put up against a strong Texas A&M defense this season.
Defensively, the Gamecocks defended very well, blocking 7 of the Aggies two-point attempts on the way to forcing A&M into a 12-29 shooting performance on the interior. Most importantly for the Gamecocks, Carolina committed only 19 fouls on the evening, which allowed it to play its players as it liked and kept A&M from running up an advantage at the foul line (Carolina took 3 more free throws on the night).
While Carolina contributed, the Aggies offense - clearly the weak area of the team - did itself no favors by hitting only 25% of their 3s and making just 55% of their free throws. But Carolina also tallied 11 steals in forcing the Aggies into 18 turnovers, and kept Billy Kennedy's bunch off the offensive glass. It was a strong performance against a team that, while not very good offensively, still just put up 1.16 points per possession against Carolina two weeks ago. On Wednesday night, USC shut down Texas A&M so completely that not a single Aggie scored double-digit points.
Carolina dominated on Wednesday night from the word go. The Gamecocks jumped out to a huge first-half lead, taking a 41-21 advantage into the break. Carolina out-played A&M in every facet of the game, forcing 10 Aggie turnovers in 32 possessions while holding A&M to just a 38.1% eFG%. On the other end, Carolina shot well from everywhere (50% from 2, 40% from 3, and 92% from the line) while giving themselves plenty of second-chance opportunities, rebounding 8 of their 15 offensive misses. The Gamecocks also only committed 8 personal fouls in the first 20 minutes, finally avoiding leaving the opposition in the bonus for large swathes of the half, a problem they've dealt with in nearly every conference game thus far this season.
A&M opened the second half on a 13-5 run, but Carolina answered with a 13-3 run of its own to lead by 22 at the 10 minute mark, with Duane Notice scoring 10 points during that opening part of the period. From there, the Gamecocks further stretched their lead, leading by 30 with four minutes to left before cruising the rest of the way home to their first conference win of the season.
Wednesday was a night for Carolina to remember, but it's back to work - and back to the road - again this weekend. The Gamecocks return to action on Saturday where they'll try to avenge a conference loss for the second outing in a row, as they head to Oxford to take on the Ole Miss Rebels. That game tips off at 1:30pm on SEC TV.
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