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Gamecock men struggle to get much going in 69-65 loss to Illinois State

Not the way South Carolina wanted to open the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Challenge.

Nov 16, 2017; Conway, SC, USA; Illinois State Redbirds forward Milik Yarbrough (52) loses the ball defended by South Carolina Gamecocks forward Chris Silva (30) and forward Justin Minaya (10) during the first half of the game at The HTC Center. Mandatory Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

The South Carolina Gamecocks opened play in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Classic in Myrtle Beach with a disappointing 69-65 setback against the Illinois State Redbirds, dropping to 2-1 on the season in a game they never led.

The Gamecocks got off to a sluggish and ugly start, enduring a brutal first half that saw them shoot just 7-of-30 (23%) from the field, commit seven turnovers, and rack up 15 fouls. The Illinois State zone gave South Carolina fits, especially when Maik Kotsar and Chris Silva had to sit with foul trouble. Unable to exploit a size advantage in the paint and lacking two of their veteran players, the Gamecocks instead settled for 3-pointers, making just three of their 14 attempts, and were also outrebounded by the Redbirds (21-20). To cap it off, Illinois State’s Keyshawn Evans nailed a buzzer-beating trey as the half expired, sending the Gamecocks to the locker room down 32-23.

South Carolina came out more energetic and aggressive in the second half, cutting into the Redbirds’ lead and tying the game on two occasions. But the Gamecocks never took control, as Illinois State was able to come up with a big stop or bucket to answer each South Carolina challenge. Chris Silva scored 10 points, but fouled out with about five minutes left in the game and didn’t make a field goal. The Gamecocks also got 10 points from Hassani Gravett and Frank Booker, both of whom attempted 10 3-pointers but made just two and three, respectively. South Carolina shot a miserable 28% from behind the arc and only 30% from the field, and it wasn’t much better at the foul line, either — the Gamecocks converted just 67% of their free throws. South Carolina ultimately outrebounded Illinois State (45-42), but gave up a lot of defensive boards off of its 3-point attempts and perimeter jumpers. Leading scorer Milik Yarbrough finished with 18 points and six rebounds for the Redbirds, despite only two made field goals.

It’s hard to know what to take away from this result. It’s still very early in the season, and the Gamecocks are replacing nearly 80% of their offensive output from last year. With the foul trouble South Carolina’s veteran bigs landed in, this was a trial by fire for the freshmen and newcomers. Kory Holden, a somewhat heralded Delaware transfer, must still be struggling to get back up to speed after his knee injury — he missed both of his attempts from the field, turning the ball over twice and getting whistled for three fouls. The Gamecocks will need players like him and Booker to step up while the freshmen get acclimated, because the backcourt is still very much a work in progress, and Gravett doesn’t look like the kind of player who can carry it on his own. The frontcourt seems more settled, but if Silva continues to struggle with fouling, things get a lot more uncertain there as well.

South Carolina gets another game in this tournament tomorrow morning at 10:30, facing the loser of Boise State-UTEP.