For the second consecutive year South Carolina faced the Baylor Bears in a weekday afternoon game featured on ESPN's Tip-Off Marathon. Last season, No. 23 Baylor barley slipped by the Gamecocks, 66-64, when a South Carolina put-back was waived off to end the game in regulation. As tip-off approached at Colonial Life Arena today, Duane Notice and his teammates were vocal about their desire to serve Baylor with some payback after last season's ending.
The first half was a complete mess offensively that featured 20 fouls and the two teams combining to shoot 17-of-49 from the field. Baylor started the game looking more like South Carolina than the Gamecocks. The Bears swarming, contesting defense and aggressive, fast-paced offense led to several early baskets for Baylor as well as a couple early turnovers for South Carolina. South Carolina battled back to overcome their early deficit despite 8 first half turnovers. Senior Ty Johnson and sophomore Sindarius Thornwell combined for 19 of South Carolina's 27 first half points. Baylor's offense in the first half was also led by a few key players. Junior Deng Deng and freshman Jonathan Motley, along with JC transfer Lester Medford, combined for 26 of Baylor's 30 points in the first half. Deng, Medford and Motely are a part of 7 newcomers for Baylor who combined to score 52 of Baylor's 80 points in their season opener vs. McNeese State. For the second consecutive game, Frank Martin's defense was fantastic at attacking the ball-handler, contesting passes, closing out on shooters and swarming when the ball arrived in the paint. After a back-and-forth first half, Baylor ended the period on a 6-0 run to take a 30-27 halftime lead.
Baylor continued the momentum they entered the locker room with by coming out running in the 2nd half. They stormed out with 2 fast-break baskets plus an intense alley-lop slam from Taurean Prince to begin the half. Again, Thornwell and Johnson kept the Gamecocks in the game, pulling their team within 4. After some back-and-forth action, the Gamecocks seemed to gain some momentum. Demetrius Henry came alive on both ends of the floor with a basket and a big block on back-to-back possessions. Baylor's then-leading scorer at the moment, Jonathan Motely, found himself and his 13 points on the bench after picking up his 4th foul early in the 2nd half. The game seemed to be swinging South Carolina's way but then Kenny Chery happened. The senior guard began to heat up after a 1-of-7, 2-point showing in the first half. Cherry ended with 20 points after shooting 5-of-9 in the 2nd half. Baylor led the Gamecocks by as much as 10 in the 2nd half but the Gamecocks rallied to get within 3 with 1:19 to go. Baylor found themselves in the common scenario where if you make your free throws, you win the game. The Bears started 1-4 from the line and then after a Ty Johnson layup, the Gamecocks were down by 2 with 1.3 seconds left on the clock. South Carolina was then forced to foul none other than Kenny Chery. As he helped Baylor pull away in the 2nd half, he closed the game out as well, sinking both of his shots from the charity stripe.
South Carolina's inability to handle Baylor, and mainly Motely, in the paint was the difference. Baylor had 26 free throw attempts as Michael Carrera and Sindarius Thornwell fouled out, while Demetrius Henry committed 4 fouls. The home team's defense was so quick to collapse on Motely in the paint that it left guys like Cherry and Medford open with space on the perimeter. While pressure on both ends caused Baylor to scramble and helped South Carolina finish the game on a 11-4 run, it wasn't enough. Throughout the game, South Carolina had no one capable of busting the Bears' zone. For now it doesn't seem like the Gamecocks have a player talented enough to shoot the other team out of their zone. Frank Martin must have his team ready with a zone offense ahead of their game Thursday vs. Cornell and the Charleston Classic this weekend.