Monday started off with a few bright spots, but Monday night's game did not.
This afternoon, South Carolina received five votes in the most recent Associated Press Top 25 poll and Mindaugas Kacinas was named SEC Player of the Week. Tonight's game against Western Carolina saw the Gamecocks bury themselves early with costly mistakes.
Kacinas scored the first bucket of the game but two Catamount three-pointers put USC down early on. The senior forward would score six of South Carolina's first 10 points in the ball game. Down 13-10 just 6:50 into the game, the Gamecocks had already committed eight turnovers.
Freshman guard P.J. Dozier got the quick hook for veteran guard Duane Notice but South Carolina remained behind Western Carolina for most of the first half. Freshman forward Eric Cobb dropped in a basket as senior Michael Carrera followed with a trey, tying the game at 20 a little over midway into the first half.
Those quick five points on back-to-back possessions sparked a 19-0 run over the next 6:30 to put USC up 34-20. Turnovers would again plague the Gamecocks as the half came to a close. They would turn the ball over three more times, allowing eight consecutive points to Western Carolina. Kacinas nailed a three-pointer at the buzzer to send South Carolina into the half with a nine-point lead, 37-28.
WCU entered the game with their opponents shooting just 24.7 percent from behind the arc, a mark that ranked 14th nationally. South Carolina ended the night shooting 44.4 percent from deep, knocking down eight of their 18 three-point attempts.
A flurry of those treys came in the second half. Sindarius Thornwell didn't make his first field goal until just after the break, opening the half with a three-point basket. The junior scored 10 points on 3-of-12 shooting, but knocked down two second-half three-pointers. Michael Carrera followed Thornwell's three-pointer with back-to-back 3s of his own, pushing South Carolina out to a 51-36 lead.
Notice connected on just one trey and it came late in the second half. Kacinas, who made both of his three-point attempts, followed Notice's make with a deep bucket of his own, putting USC up by 22, the largest lead of the game.
South Carolina cruised to a 76-53 lead after a hostile beginning. The win improves the Gamecocks' record to 7-0, one win shy of matching their best start since 2003.
Kacinas led the way with a 20-point, 11-rebound double-double, the fifth one of his career and his second so far this season. Freshman Chris Silva tallied a career-high 11 rebounds to go with nine points on the night. Carrera continued his steady play on the wing, producing 16 points, shooting 4-of-7 from the field, 3-of-4 from behind the arc and 5-of-5 from the free throw line.
USC hasn't been to the NCAA Tournament since that 2003 season. A win on Saturday afternoon against USF would match the 8-0 start of South Carolina's last dancing team.