It certainly looked like the Gamecocks were coming out of a winter slumber on Tuesday night. South Carolina played their first game following a 10-day break as they defeated Drexel, 79-54, at Colonial Life Arena.
USC had fared well under the NCAA's new rules entering the 2015-16 season. Coming off their exam break, a sloppy, foul-ridden game broke out in Columbia. The Gamecocks trotted out to a 6-5 lead but key senior Laimonas Chatkevicius picked up two quick fouls, both on offense, and had to head to the bench.
The Dragons took the lead after five early turnovers from South Carolina and a bundle of foul calls, leading Drexel to the free throw line several times - 16 fouls were called in the first 10 minutes. It took more than 10 minutes for a player other than Sindarius Thornwell and freshman P.J. Dozier to score for the Gamecocks. A dunk from Chris Silva expanded the box score but USC felt just five points of impact from its frontcourt in the game's first 12 minutes.
Despite a start with pace comparable to driving through a wintery mix, the Gamecocks found an 11-0 burst late in the first half. Chatkevicuius returned from his time on the pine to hit a three-pointer at the top of the key to cap the run as USC took a 32-28 lead into halftime.
A frustrated Frank Martin inspired an awakening in the locker room as South Carolina came out guns blazing in the second half. In just the first minute of play, the Gamecocks scored nine points, pushing their lead to 41-28. Thornwell knocked down a trey while leading scorer Mindaugas Kacinas also dropped a bucket from deep. Dozier got a lay up with a foul and made his free throw.
The Gamecocks extended their run to open the half to 18-3. USC's defense locked down after the break as well, forcing Drexel to miss their first 10 shots from the field in the second half. A Dragon three-pointer was quickly countered by a trey from Duane Notice as the game continued to spin out of control.
Drexel tried to flip the script, going with a full court trap midway through the second half. While the pressure and intensity increased in the Dragon defense, the result remained the same. The press quickly gave up a free lay-in to Chatkevicius and an alley-oop from Thornwell to Michael Carrera. South Carolina built its lead to 20 at the under-eight timeout before coasting to a 25-point win in the closing minutes.
Dozier finished with a career-high 16 points as he benefited the most from the tightly called contest, making 10 of his 16 free throw attempts. Fellow freshman Chris Silva may have had his best all-around game of the year, grabbing a game-high seven rebounds to go along with nine points, two blocks and two steals. Thornwell also had a solid night, shooting 50 percent from the field, finishing with 13 points, five assists and four rebounds.
The win provides this program with its best start since the 1970-71 season - the year South Carolina won their only ACC championship and made their first NCAA Tournament. The Gamecocks next travel to Greenville on Friday night for the annual tussle with Clemson. USC won last year's matchup and a win against the Tigers would provide this program with its best start since the 1933-34 season.