Zone or no zone, Oral Roberts couldn't keep Frank Martin and his team from reaching their main objective Monday night. "Get the ball inside," Martin stressed after USC's opening win over Norfolk State last weekend.
The Gamecocks ended their second game of the 2015-16 season with a second consecutive 84-point effort. South Carolina made sure to get the ball to their big men like their coach instructed them to do. The strategy led the team to often play their offense through senior Laimonas Chatkevicius. As a result, the Lithuanian ended his night with a career-high of 27 points.
In their opener, the Gamecocks struggled against Norfolk State's 2-3 zone. From the opening tip, Oral Roberts deployed the same strategy, asking USC to beat them with their shooting. Neither team had trouble scoring at first but an early 6-0 run helped the Golden Eagles take an 8-6 lead.
A 6-0 run from the Gamecocks helped them retake the lead but ORU's zone defense started to settle in after that. USC was taking jump shots, precisely what their coach was asking them not to do. The Golden Eagles were having success from the mid-range while South Carolina was not.
Oral Roberts took the largest lead of the first half, a seven-point deficit, with 3:30 left to play until halftime. The Golden Eagles had scored on their last six possessions while the Gamecocks had missed six of their last seven attempts.
Duane Notice knocked down a three-pointer. The next time down the floor the boys got the ball inside and Chatkevicius scored on a jump hook, bringing USC within two. Sindarius Thornwell connected on a trey from the left corner and the Gamecocks all of a sudden had the lead. Two free throws each from Chatkevicius and Thornwell helped South Carolina end the half on a 12-2 run and take a 33-30 lead into the break.
Oral Roberts was deploying a containment press that compressed into their zone defense. It was keeping the Gamecocks from getting into any kind of rhythm offensively. The press left USC less time than usual on the shot clock and once they had moved into the half-court, South Carolina remained passive against the Golden Eagles' zone. They had open jumpers in the first half but they weren't falling. Second chance points and offensive rebounds, combined with the late burst, kept them in game and in the lead.
Finding ways to score when jump shots weren't falling was the tale of the first half. After halftime, the shots began to rain. Notice quickly found his connection from behind the arc and it enabled South Carolina to pull away.
Notice's triplet three-pointers out of the gate effectively shot Oral Roberts out of their zone. Once the Golden Eagles were in a man-to-man defense, the offense flowed even more from the inside as Chatkevicius and Mindaugas Kacinas took over until the buzzer rang. Quick spins off post-ups, baby hooks, put-backs, even deep threes, the Lithuanians scored in every way to close out the 84-66 win for South Carolina.
While Chatkevicius' 27 points led the team, Notice followed him with a cool 18 off the bench, shooting 4-of-7 from behind the arc. Kacinas tallied South Carolina's first double-double of the year, going for 12 points and 13 rebounds. Thornwell, playing point guard for most of the game, was a dreadful 3-of-15 from the field but finished with a solid line - 11 points, seven assists, three rebounds.
The Gamecocks next test takes them to the islands. They'll travel to St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands for the 2015 Paradise Jam, where they'll take on DePaul Friday afternoon.