Frank Martin took pride in leading this South Carolina program to its first top-25 ranking since 2004. He only let that pride show in brief moments leading up his team's first game as ranked team on Tuesday night. Martin was adamant his team still wasn't good enough to show up and win - regardless of who they played.
The Gamecocks gave Martin the response he was looking for: a 75-61 win over St. John's in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Shootout at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncassville, Conn. The win bumped USC to an 11-0 start, remaining the only undefeated team in the Southeastern Conference. It was also South Carolina's first ever victory over a storied St. John's program.
The Red Storm got out to an early lead in Tuesday night's neutral site match-up thanks to pinpoint shooting. St. John's held that lead for the first 10 minutes of the game but USC took its first lead at the 9:25 mark after a 5-of-7 stretch from the floor. Chris Mullin's team would score a bucket with 10:13 remaining in the first half but would not make another field goal until the 3:45 mark in the half.
It marked a 6:25 scoreless stretch that has become a custom with inferior teams against South Carolina's pressure-filled man-to-man defense. The Gamecocks took advantage of the Johnnies' misses, securing a 15-1 run to build a 31-19 lead. After their dry spell, St. John's closed the half making six consecutive baskets, reducing their deficit to just six points, 40-34, entering halftime.
The Red Storm had a wave of momentum entering the locker room but could not transition it into the second half. The South Carolina defense forced the Johnnies into two turnovers on back-to-back possessions after halftime. The turnovers forced an upset Mullin to call a timeout just one minute into the second half of play.
Like they have all season, the Gamecocks were quick in turning their opponents' turnovers into points. USC built their lead into double-digits and St. John's deficit was never lower than eight for the rest of the game. South Carolina held a double-digit lead for the final nine minutes of the game.
A perfect 5-of-5 start from the field helped Duane Notice lead the way with 20 points. It marks his fifth career 20-point game. Michael Carrera added his seventh career double-double on Tuesday night, tallying 16 points and 12 rebounds.
Completely in control, South Carolina had the response of a top-25 team.