COLUMBIA, S.C. — The South Carolina men’s basketball team used a tough interior defense to locked down its most emphatic win of the 2015-16 season Monday night, beating Western Carolina (2-4) 76-53. Mindaugas Kacinas went for a double-double to help the Gamecocks move to 7-0 for the season despite a slow start, they are now one win off matching their best start in 12 years.
The Gamecocks committed six turnovers in just over a three-minute stretch to open the game, limiting them to just six points total through the first six minutes of the opening half. Three of Western Carolina’s first four field goals made came from 3-point range, and the visitors took a 13-12 lead into the under-12 media timeout. Carolina would ultimately turn the ball over 14 times in the first half, but allowed WCU to score just six points off them.
Western Carolina would extend its lead out to five, 20-15, but the Gamecocks stole back some valuable momentum before the under-eight timeout thanks to a 3 from Michael Carrera and a lay-in from Eric Cobb to tie it back up at 20-all. In all, the Catamounts committed turnovers on four straight possessions after taking their five-point lead, letting the Gamecocks quickly tie the game back up.
That 5-0 spurt before the timeout would stretch way out to 19-0 over seven minutes, but it would be a slow build as the Gamecocks hit just 5-of-14 field goals in the run. Much of the damage would be done at the free throw line, where Carolina made seven. The Catamounts would miss seven straight field goal attempts and committed six turnovers before a 3 from Deriece Parks broke the ice. Carrera would be a bright spot offensively for Carolina, scoring all nine of his first-half points in this span.
The Gamecocks carried a 37-28 lead into halftime, holding Western Carolina to 29 percent from the floor. Most of the damage from the visitors would be from beyond the arc, as they would make six 3s. On two-point field goals alone, WCU made just 3-of-15 attempts in the first half.
In keeping with a blueprint that has worked throughout the first month of the season, a bruising interior defense coupled with an efficient offense through the paint would help South Carolina run away and hide from any threatening second-half runs by Western Carolina. The Gamecocks would commit just two turnovers through the first 15 minutes of the second half, while forcing seven from the opposition.
A big reason for the Gamecocks pulling away in the final 20 minutes would be their effectiveness in converting turnovers into points. Despite forcing 10 turnovers in the first half, Carolina scored just four points off the extra possessions. In the second half, 10 more turnovers from WCU would be used to score 14 points.
Offensively, seven different players would record a field goal in the second half. Kacinas paced the team with nine second-half points to finish with a game-high 20; the reigning SEC Player of the Week chipped in ten rebounds as well for his second double-double of the season. The team was able to work in all seven of its newcomers in the final five minutes, with Jamall Gregory recording his first points and John Ragin his first minutes as Gamecocks. The Catamounts would be held in check from inside the arc again in the second half, converting just 5-of-20 two-point attempts. Joining Kacinas in double figures for the night were Carrera (16) and Sindarius Thornwell (10).
After going down by its largest margin of the game at 20-15, South Carolina went on a seven-minute-long run where it would hold Western Carolina without a single point. In all, it would be a 19-point swing, helped out by seven straight missed field goal attempts and six turnovers from the Catamounts. Michael Carrera scored nine points on his own in this span, with a pair of 3-pointers and three free throws.
A physical post defense from South Carolina held Western Carolina to just eight made two-point field goals for the game on a total of 35 attempts from inside the arc (22.8 percent). Three of the last four Gamecock opponents have attempted 30 or more 3-pointers, Carolina averages 15.6 more rebounds and 24 more points in the paint per game in those matchups.
South Carolina hosts USF on Saturday at 4 p.m. ET. The meeting will be the fifth all-time between the two schools and the first since the 2009-10 campaign. Carolina holds an all-time mark of 3-1 vs. the Bulls. Saturday’s matchup will be broadcast on SEC Network with Richard Cross (play-by-play) and Mark Wise (analyst) on the call.
- The 28.4 field goal percentage from Western Carolina is the lowest allowed by the Gamecocks so far this season, and lowest since Missouri shot 25 percent on March 11 of last season.
- Freshman forward Chris Silva led the team with a new career high of 11 rebounds. He would come just one point shy of his first career double-double and added a pair of blocks in 15 minutes of playing time.
- After dishing out a career-high five assists against Lipscomb, Justin McKie recorded four more Monday night. His nine assists in this span is more than he had over 25 games last season.
- The Gamecocks are now 9-0 against Western Carolina in the all-time series. South Carolina’s average margin of victory in the series has been 14.9 points per game.