Tale of two halves: Gamecocks awaken after break

ashain@thestate.comDecember 13, 2011 

South Carolina Gamecocks guard Bruce Ellington (23) tries for a rebound during the first half of action Tuesday night against Presbyterian.

TRACY GLANTZ — tglantz@thestate.com

South Carolina was two teams during its 66-58 victory against Presbyterian at Colonial Life Arena on Tuesday night.

There was the first-half team, the one that looked tentative after failing to make a number of layups and scored 19 points on 24 percent shooting.

Then there was the second-half Gamecocks, a team that played aggressively and confidently and forced the Blue Hose on their heels to score 47 points and shoot 70 percent.

USC coach Darrin Horn said the difference in the teams were shots going through the basket. At halftime, Horn said he told the team: “Make a layup. It’s Division I basketball.

“With a young team, when a few of them don’t go down, it seems to be some type of domino effect,” Horn said.

South Carolina (4-5) hit eight of its first nine shots in the second half to fire an 18-5 run and take a lead the Gamecocks would not relinquish. Horn said many of the shots were the same as the first half but they went through, especially off turnovers generated by a press.

“It changed the rhythm of the game,” Horn said.

USC won consecutive games for the first time this season. The Gamecocks last played nine days ago in a victory at Clemson. South Carolina meets No. 2 Ohio State in Columbia on Saturday.

The Gamecocks’ top scorer was a familiar one from last season. Bruce Ellington, playing in his third game since returning from the football team, led USC with 15 points — including five at the end of the first half that put the Gamecocks into contention. He had scored a total of 15 points in his first two games this season.

USC started the game lethargic in part because the Gamecocks missed so many shots in and around the paint because of a stifling defense by Presbyterian. South Carolina players seldom had breathing room — even around the basket. The Gamecocks went on a seven-minute scoring drought at one point as Presbyterian led by as many as 10 points.

South Carolina hung around because the Blue Hose committed 12 turnovers and scored 25 points in the first half. Ellington’s 15-foot jumper with less than two minutes left was the first outside shot USC made in the first half. Last year’s leading scorer followed that with a 3-pointer that closed Presbyterian’s lead to three points and give USC a preview of its burst to start the last 20 minutes.

“Once a couple went down for him, he seemed to regain his confidence, that ‘I can take on the world’ mentality,” Horn said.

Six Gamecocks scored to open the second half. Forward Malik Cooke, this year’s leading scorer who received his sociology degree in the same building on Monday, scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half.

South Carolina’s struggles — and eventual success — came close to the basket. The Gamecocks attempted 11 three-pointers in the win, the team’s lowest total since the final game of 2009-10 season. USC did not get frustrated after scoring eight points in the paint in the first 20 minutes. The team scored 26 close-range points in the second half.

“It’s tough when you’re that close to the basket and you just have a mental lapse or the ball just doesn’t go in,” Cooke said. “It’s something we have to fight through, and it can’t determine how we play.”

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PRESBYTERIAN (4-5) | Coleman 4-9 2-4 10, Reynolds 4-7 1-2 9, Johnson 4-8 2-2 13, Mutakabbir 6-11 0-0 15, Washington 0-3 2-2 2, Clyburn 0-0 0-0 0, Deihl 0-0 0-0 0, Miller 3-6 1-1 8, Hargrave 0-1 0-0 0, Truss 0-0 0-0 0, McTavish 0-0 1-2 1. Totals 21-45 9-13 58.

SOUTH CAROLINA (4-5) | Gill 3-6 3-3 10, Cooke 5-7 3-3 14, Harris 4-6 1-1 9, Smith 0-4 0-0 0, Jackson 3-4 0-0 6, Williams 0-3 0-0 0, Richardson 1-4 0-0 2, Ellington 6-14 2-4 15, Leonard 3-5 0-0 8, Slawson 1-3 0-0 2, Geathers 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-56 9-11 66.

Halftime: Presbyterian 25-19. 3-Point Goals: Presbyterian 7-18 (Mutakabbir 3-4, Johnson 3-7, Miller 1-4, Hargrave 0-1, Washington 0-2), South Carolina 5-11 (Leonard 2-2, Cooke 1-1, Gill 1-1, Ellington 1-3, Smith 0-1, Richardson 0-1, Williams 0-2). Fouled Out: Coleman. Rebounds: Presbyterian 24 (Coleman 6), South Carolina 33 (Gill 8). Assists: Presbyterian 13 (Washington 6), South Carolina 14 (Ellington, Jackson 3). Total Fouls: Presbyterian 13, South Carolina 15. Attendance: 7,003.

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