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Basketball Week in Review: Women sweep, men split first pair of games

If you’re wanting a distraction from football, it’s finally arrived.

Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Basketball is back, and so is your opportunity to pay attention to something other than the South Carolina football team and its head-spinning coaching search! While the season is young — and we’ve already seen COVID-19 touch the men’s program, via a canceled exhibition game — here’s a quick week in review if you’ve been busy refreshing flight trackers and the like instead.

No. 1 women roll in exhibition, pass a couple tests

While the Gamecock men had their preseason tune-up against Coker scrapped, the women got a chance to face off against College of Charleston, posting an overwhelming 119-38 win against the outmatched Cougars. It was a different story for South Carolina’s next two games, though, in the Bad Boy Mowers Classic (yes, you read that correctly) in Sioux Falls, S.D. The Gamecocks were tied at the half with South Dakota before using a big third quarter to pull away for an 81-71 win that wasn’t that close, before withstanding a stiff challenge from No. 21 Gonzaga that had the Gamecocks emerging with a narrow 79-72 victory.

Junior guard Destanni Henderson earned tournament MVP honors after posting a career-high 23 points against the Zags and scoring 19 against the Coyotes. She was also a clutch 10-of-13 from the free throw line late against Gonzaga, which helped sparked the Gamecocks’ final rally to finish the game off. Sophomore and fellow guard Zia Cooke has also enjoyed an impressive start to the season, scoring 19 points against South Dakota and 16 against the Zags.

Up next, the women have two ranked opponents on the docket this week: No. 8 N.C. State on Thursday, followed by a Sunday road trip to No. 23 Iowa State. As the Wolfpack are an ascendant program and also the defending ACC champions, I’m going to be watching that one with interest.

Men struggle against Liberty, right the ship against Tulsa

Can’t lie to you, folks — while the women may have encountered some surprisingly stingy competition in their early season tournament, the men just looked flat out awful in their first time on the court for the Hall of Fame Classic. The Flames were comfortably ahead for much of their 78-62 victory, burying the Gamecocks under an avalanche of 3-pointers (11 of 26) and shooting 56% from the field in what was a forgettable defensive performance from South Carolina. (In fairness, the offensive performance wasn’t much better — USC shot a tepid 39%, with A.J. Lawson’s 12 points serving as the team high.) Fortunately, the Gamecocks turned it around the next time out, going on a late 15-0 run while holding Tulsa scoreless for nearly nine minutes as they secured a solid 69-58 win behind the strength of Jermaine Couisnard’s 20 points and Lawson’s 17.

The Gamecocks have been projected (and expected) by many to make the NCAA Tournament, so what we saw last week wasn’t terribly encouraging — especially for those whose patience is dwindling with Frank Martin and his propensity to drop early nonconference games. I’m not mashing the panic button just yet — who knows, maybe losing that Coker exhibition was THAT important to getting started off right — but I’m watching with some caution.

Up next, South Carolina travels to Houston on Saturday, and is then idle until hosting Wofford the following Thursday.