USC attempted a new school record 58 free throws and made a new school record 46 of them during the tightly called match-up. The game featured 68 fouls, keeping the game long and close with 17 ties and 13 lead changes.
The Tigers arrived in Columbia as one of the nation's best teams at getting to the free throw line. Right off the bat senior Shaq Goodwin opened the scoring by knocking down two shots from the stripe. Goodwin would sink another bucket to give Memphis an early 4-0 lead.
Laimonas Chatkevicius was on the wrong end of Goodwin's early production as the big man picked up two fouls in the first 21 seconds. Freshman P.J. Dozier was not far behind, picking up two quick fouls and joining the senior Lithuanian on the bench. The new freedom of movement rules were in full force and this game's high intensity from the opening tip did not help the matter.
Memphis turned the ball over four times in the first three minutes allowing South Carolina to take an 8-7 lead at the first media timeout. Chris Silva replaced Chatkevicius and tallied four points and four rebounds in his first four minutes.
The Tigers used transition and a vicious dribble-drive offense to keep the Gamecocks on their toes all night. Josh Pastner's team was using every opportunity to attack and burn USC. Early on, Frank Martin switched to a 2-3 zone, attempting to slow the game down and put the Tigers in more half-court sets.
Memphis used a 7-0 run to take a 14-9 lead. Six USC turnovers in the first seven minutes hurt as did poor defensive rebounding, something Frank Martin knew would hurt his team at some point this season. The Gamecock offense tried to get open looks from the outside on set plays but the Tigers' athleticism left little gaps on that side of the floor. Duane Notice canned USC's first three-pointer about 10 minutes into the game, tying the score at 16.
While outside shots were rarely falling or presenting themselves early on, the Gamecocks made due with what they were given. South Carolina scored 24 of their first 27 points from either the paint or the free throw line. USC went five minutes without a field goal during a stretch in the first half until a Sindarius Thornwell trey ended the slump and tied the game at 30.
A Michael Carrera three-pointer gave South Carolina a one-point lead with 4:16 left in the half. It was the beginning of a 9-0 run that gave the Gamecocks their first two-possession lead of the night. Free throws on the other end and ball watching within the 2-3 zone gave the lead away as Memphis was able to tie the game at 42 heading into the break. It marked the first time all season that South Carolina was not leading at halftime.
Like they opened the first half, Memphis began the second half with a 4-0 spark. USC was able to match as the Tigers lost some momentum thanks to a flagrant one foul called on Goodwin followed by another Goodwin personal foul, his third at the time. Mindaugas Kacinas sank two free throws as South Carolina regained the lead at 54-53.
Kacinas' free throws were part of a 9-3 run that helped give the Gamecocks the lead when it felt like Memphis' physical hand was starting to grasp the game. With their lead gone, Pastner switched to a zone despite his man-to-man defense's success. The defense was tight and productive on both ends with Memphis making just 15 of their first 45 shots and South Carolina only canning 13 of their first 45.
As has become custom under Martin, players that pick up two fouls early in the first half don't see the floor until after halftime. Dozier and Chatkevicius fell victim to that habit tonight but the freshman was able to make impact plays in the second half. A stretch of four Dozier points, a Thornwell putback and a pair of Kacinas free throws helped give USC a 70-63 lead, their largest of the game, with 6:34 to play.
The Gamecocks weren't able to pull away completely as Memphis reduced their deficit to just three on three different occasions. They were never ever to capitalize on the one-possession opportunities and South Carolina made the most of their free throws down the stretch.
Thornwell led the way with 18 points while Carrera contributed 16 points, and a number of key buckets, plus 11 rebounds to earn the eighth double-double of his career. Notice tallied 15 points, going 12-of-12 from the free throw line. Five Memphis Tigers fouled out by the end of night.
With the win, South Carolina will enter conference play as one of three undefeated teams remaining in the nation. Memphis is exactly the match-up the Gamecocks needed to prepare for the physical play they'll see in the SEC. And they'll see it right off the bat when they open with Bruce Pearl's Auburn team on the road Tuesday night.