Making history isn't easy. The Gamecocks found out just how hard it is on Friday night at Greenville's Bon Secours Arena.
South Carolina triumphed in the annual contest with Clemson, defeating the Tigers, 65-59. In doing so, Frank Martin's team becomes the first USC men's basketball team to begin the year 10-0 since the 1933-34 season.
The atmosphere at Clemson's home for basketball this season was lacking in pregame, but several moments brought the crowd alive, beginning with Michael Carrera's dunk on an offensive rebound to begin the game.
The two teams traded three-point baskets in the early going and were tied 7-7 going into the first media timeout. Out of the break, the tempo picked up and Clemson took a 13-12 lead over South Carolina. Freshman guard P.J. Dozier connected on a floater to give USC the lead and senior Mindaugas Kacinas followed with five consecutive points.
The veteran and the rookie began a run that would put the Tigers in such a hole, it became impossible to claw out of. Carrera drained back-to-back treys and Sindarius Thornwell made a SportsCenter worthy play, an emphatic one-handed slam over noted shotblocker Landry Nnoko.
The Gamecocks would end up going on a 24-1 run that coincided with 11 consecutive missed field goals and nearly nine scoreless minutes from Clemson.
Despite the dominance, Frank Martin was livid with his team during a timeout with 1:58 remaining in the first half and his team up 20. The Tigers would cut the lead to 16 going into the half and as minor as that may seem, the mini Clemson run brought back the crowd and Brad Brownell's group gained some momentum entering the locker room.
The Tigers rode the wave to begin the second half, outscoring South Carolina 11-4 while cutting the USC lead down to single digits. The game was called tighter in the second half, a disadvantage for the Tigers as they began defending the Gamecocks from end-to-end. Clemson was called for four fouls in the first 2:30 of the second half.
Brownell also deployed a zone defense, something that has troubled Martin's teams for several seasons now. The zone forced South Carolina to be tentative on offense and despite a stretch where neither team scored for three minutes, Clemson began shooting themselves back into the game.
The Tigers reduced their deficit to just four with 3:46 to play. The Gamecocks had become passive against the zone. Spinning the ball around the arc until late in the shot clock was forcing South Carolina into too many contested, outside shots. For the first 18:33 of the second half, USC scored just 18 points.
With 31.1 seconds to play, a Jordan Roper three-point attempt went in-and-out. Off the rebound, Dozier was fouled and was sent to the line with a 1-and-1 opportunity. The heralded freshman missed the first and Clemson gained possession.
Clemson guard Avery Holmes dribbled the ball off his leg, turning the ball over and frankly ending any chance the Tigers had at winning the game. Carrera sank two free throws after the turnover, icing the game and helping South Carolina earn their second consecutive victory over the Tigers.
The two clinching free throws, and an even later lay-up, were Carrera's only points of the second half but he still managed to lead USC in scoring with 14 points. Dozier was right behind him with 13 points. Eric Cobb was solid in relief of Chris Silva, tallying four points and five rebounds.
The challengers get tougher as the Gamecocks will play St. John's in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Shootout at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. on Tuesday.