Following South Carolina's second game of the 2015-16 season, all the talk surrounded around one Lithuanian. Laimonas Chatkevicius' career-high 27-point performance against Oral Roberts was certainly noteworthy, but everyone was discussing a different Lithuanian after the Gamecocks' Paradise Jam opener.
Mindaugas Kacinas' 23 points helped USC earn in a 76-61 win over DePaul in the first round of the early season tournament. The senior forward had earned career highs of free throws made and attempted at halftime, using the line to propel him to his career mark.
Kacinas scored six of South Carolina's first 14 points as they played in their first game in the eight-team tournament held in St. Thomas of the U.S. Virgin Islands. DePaul was South Carolina's first match-up this season that was physically similar to them. Despite other teams having success against USC with a zone defense, the Blue Demons played the Gamecocks man-to-man.
USC's offense did a good job attacking the basket early on as Chatkevicius and Kacinas scored the team's first six points. Frank Martin's team got out to an early 9-3 lead before missing five of their next six shots, often settling for long jumpers.
DePaul's offense is predicated on attacking off the dribble and earning trips to the free throw line. Freshman point guard P.J. Dozier fell in line with it quickly, picking up two quick fouls against the Blue Demons' best player.
Five DePaul turnovers in the game's first five and half minutes helped the Gamecocks build a multi-possession midway through the first half. Trips to the foul line however, helped the Blue Demons tie the game back up with eight minutes to play until halftime. As the clock ticked away in the first half with the game tied, South Carolina went on a 6-0 run. The lead stayed at six until Duane Notice connected on a three-point buzzer beater to end the half.
Billy Garrett Jr. was having a productive first half but his counterpart, senior forward Myke Henry, was held scoreless by the Gamecock defense in the first half of play. Henry connected on his first two shots out of the break but DePaul had trouble mustering much else until midway through the second half.
Michael Carrera took a shot to the face but rebounded to knock down a trey to extend South Carolina's lead. The Gamecocks increased their lead to 16 with 11:19 to play in St. Thomas. DePaul called a timeout to collect themselves before the game got even further out of control.
Out of the timeout, the Blue Devils proceeded to cut USC's lead to just five after three minutes of play following their team meeting. With the ball at the top of the key, DePaul was threatening to make it a one possession game. The Gamecocks were reeling but Dozier, the former McDonald's All-American, made his first impact play for his new program.
Dozier's quick hands surprised the unsuspecting DePaul ball-handler as they swiped the ball away. Dozier collected the steal and hammered home a dunk on the other end. The momentum of the game changed with that takeaway and slam. The play changed not only the team, but Dozier as well. The freshman had been painfully passive through the first two and a half games of the season. Not a possession later did Dozier drive the baseline and finish in traffic, something he seemed unwilling to do in previous games.
The Gamecocks extended their lead to eight quickly after Dozier's steal and before you knew it, the DePaul deficit was up to 12. The final point differential was 15, giving the Gamecocks a +/- of +48 through their first three games of the year.
Kacinas' 23 points led the way tonight, but Notice's 11 points, all of which were scored in the first half, were the second most. Dozier would finish with seven points, two rebounds and two steals. Sindarius Thornwell shot poorly from the floor but made plays in other areas, ending the night with a 10-point, 10-rebound double-double to go along with three assists and two steals.
With the win, USC is 3-0 for the first time since 2012 and Martin's teams are 8-3 in these early season tournaments. South Carolina's second game in the Paradise Jam will now be Sunday night at 10:00 p.m. against Hofstra.