USC ended the nonconference schedule with its best game of the season in a 79-51 win over S.C. State on Tuesday night.
The Gamecocks (8-6) have recovered after a 2-5 start that included losses to Elon and Tennessee State and getting swept at a Las Vegas tournament. South Carolina has improved every game since winning at Clemson by doing a better job of shooting and taking care of the ball.
The Gamecocks have used a balanced attack to win six of seven games with SEC play dues to start Saturday at No. 2 Kentucky.
I feel like its a confidence-builder when other people score, said forward RJ Slawson, who scored nine points and grabbed a team-high nine rebounds. Thats good leading up to SEC play.
On Tuesday, USC again got off to a fast start and, against an S.C. State team finishing a month-long roadtrip, put the game out of reach in the first half. The Gamecocks shot 58.6 percent to take a season-high 22-point lead at the half. USC made seven 3-pointers in the first half more than it had in nine games this season but also dominated 20-8 in the paint.
The Gamecocks have led at the half in five straight games and are 6-1 when leading at the break.
USC continued to pressure S.C. State in the second half as a pair of Damontre Harris dunks set the tone early. South Carolina led by 28 when the team started a 10-minute stretch without a field goal. S.C. State pulled to within 18 points but could not get closer. The Gamecocks led by 22 when Anthony Gills jumper snapped USCs 0-for-9 shooting skid with 3:23 remaining.
All of USCs 11 active players scored, though none reached double digits until Harris sank two free throws with 5:31 to go in the game. Three regulars shot under 50 percent. The team finished with a season-high 17 assists.
All our guards and all our bigs, when they have the opportunity to score, can do whatever they need to help the team win the game, Harris said.
USC coach Darrin Horn gave walk-on guard Shane Philips his first appearance of the season. The former practice player with the womens team, whose No. 12 jersey did not include his name, missed three shots before connecting on a free throw with a second left to earn a huge cheer from this seasons smallest crowd at Colonial Life Arena.
S.C. State (4-10) lost all seven games of a 15,000 mile-plus roadtrip that included traveling to Hawaii before New Years Day. The Bulldogs need those games to help finance the athletics department.
Until someone hits the lottery, well have to continue to do this, said S.C. State head coach Tim Carter, who also teased that a call to Al Capones nephews failed to yield extra money for the program.
After the win, Horn said his young roster is getting better at starting fast and becoming more consistent. He mentioned the progress of Harris, a 6-foot-9 sophomore who has been counted on as the teams main big man this season.
Harris is averaging more than six rebounds per game since before Christmas and has worked to improve his offense. The Fayetteville, N.C., native said he has been more patient around the basket, scoring a team-high 11 points Tuesday.
Malik Cooke also scored 11 points against S.C. State, while Damien Leonard added nine points. In addition to his nine points and rebounds, Slawson, a sophomore who has been slow to recover from a foot injury from a month ago, had team highs with three steals and three assists.
Hes a guy whose whole deal has to be about activity, Horn said. When hes active, he makes a lot of things happen.
On Saturday in Kentucky, the Gamecocks will face one of the nations top two teams for a third time this season. USC lost to then-No. 1 North Carolina and then-No. 2 Ohio State. South Carolina will face the five teams with SECs highest RPI rankings in seven of its first eight league games.
I feel like were going in the right direction Slawson said. We have a good group of guys with the right mindset.
S.C. STATE (4-10)
Sanders 1-4 2-6 4, Radovic 6-10 3-4 15, Toombs 3-8 3-4 9, Riley 2-10 0-0 4, Martin 3-7 1-4 9, Ikhinmwin 0-1 0-0 0, Barber 0-2 2-2 2, Joint 3-10 1-3 8. Totals 18-52 12-23 51.
SOUTH CAROLINA (8-6)
Gill 2-3 2-2 6, Cooke 3-6 4-4 11, Harris 4-9 3-3 11, Jackson 3-4 0-1 6, Smith 3-5 0-0 8, Williams 1-3 1-2 3, Richardson 1-4 0-0 2, Phillips 0-3 1-2 1, Ellington 3-5 0-0 9, Leonard 3-6 0-0 9, Slawson 3-5 1-2 9, Geathers 2-3 0-0 4. Totals 28-56 12-16 79.
Halftime: South Carolina 45-23. 3-Point Goals: SC State 3-15 (Martin 2-6, Joint 1-5, Toombs 0-1, Sanders 0-1, Riley 0-2), South Carolina 11-23 (Ellington 3-3, Leonard 3-6, Smith 2-3, Slawson 2-4, Cooke 1-1, Richardson 0-2, Phillips 0-2, Williams 0-2). Fouled Out: None. Rebounds: SC State 34 (Joint 10), South Carolina 36 (Slawson 9). Assists: SC State 11 (Joint, Toombs 4), South Carolina 17 (Jackson, Slawson 3). Total Fouls: SC State 13, South Carolina 20. Technicals: Radovic, Harris. Attendance: 6,557.