The men's basketball opener concluded a busy Saturday for South Carolina as the football team hosted the Florida Gators just a few miles down the road earlier in the day. The debut of Frank Martin's fourth team marked his 100th game as head coach of the Gamecocks. His team opened the 2015-16 season with an 84-69 win over visiting Norfolk State on Saturday night in Colonial Life Arena.
Excitement follows this year's Gamecock team and freshman guard P.J. Dozier is a big reason for that. The Spring Valley-product and former McDonald's All-American earned the start at point guard in tonight's opener. South Carolina would miss their first four shots until Dozier pulled up at the foul line to sink a jumper and open the scoring for the Gamecocks.
Dozier's start meant that Duane Notice, last year's leading scorer, would come off the bench in his first minutes of the season. After a cold start from both teams, Notice's early entrance in the ballgame provided the spark USC needed to take an early lead. He would connect on his first three shots, all three-pointers, to help the Gamecocks get out to a 13-2 lead.
Martin did not want Notice to play point guard this season so he could do what he does best - shoot. The buckets came early for the Canadian as he had 12 of USC's first 18 points. With Dozier at the point, the offense was moving at a much quicker pace. Whether the offense was initiated by transition or from under their own basket, the Gamecocks were moving the ball up the floor quickly.
The game's pace was quick to start but fouls quickly slowed the game down. Dozier and Notice would pick up two fouls each and would sit for most of the first half. With quick whistles flying, the Gamecocks would use the free throw line to build their lead. USC made their first 10 free throws and during one stretch, 11 of their last 13 points came from the charity stripe.
Norfolk State's zone defense and excessive fouls were stalling the Gamecocks on the offensive end as the first half came to a close. A three-point barrage from the Spartans to end the first half gave them a 19-8 run into the locker room and reduced the South Carolina lead to just six at the break.
Dozier returned to the court following halftime and opened the scoring in the second half with a deep trey. His backcourt mate, Sindarius Thornwell, would hit a three-pointer on the next possession to quickly build South Carolina's lead back to a dozen. The deep basket from Thornwell was his first field goal of the game.
Norfolk State would again make a run midway through the half but a stretch of two three pointers, two baskets from Laimonas Chatkevicius and a slam from freshman Eric Cobb moved the USC lead back to 11.
A high-flying freshman connection happened shortly afterwards when Dozier lobbed a pass back to Chris Silva for an emphatic dunk. Silva had two slams in the game that displayed his reputation as a dangerous athlete.
The Spartans would connect on back-to-back threes to threaten the Gamecocks once again but USC's depth advantage put the game away. Fouls were a significant issue for Norfolk State as South Carolina often put them in situations on both ends of the floor where the Spartans were out of position. Three Spartans fouled out and four others finished the game with four fouls. The Gamecocks' ability to continuously put fresh, aggressive bodies on the floor helped them pull away for their 84-69 win.
Notice and Thornwell led the team with 14 points each. Thornwell was 7-of-9 from the free throw line and his field goals often came off breakaways or second chance buckets as he struggled in set offense. Despite the 84 points, South Carolina struggled during multiple stretches on the offensive end. The ball often stuck against Norfolk State's zone. When the ball was reversing against the zone, many Gamecocks refused to attack the defense.
Many of South Carolina's points came in transition and at the free throw line. Silva finished 8-of-12 from the line as he almost opened his college career with a double-double, finishing with 12 points and nine rebounds. Dozier didn't shoot well from the field but finished his debut with seven points, four rebounds, three assists and three steals.
The Gamecocks' second game comes on Monday night when Colonial Life Arena and the Gamecock faithful host Oral Roberts at 7:30 p.m. ET.