COLUMBIA, S.C. (USC SID) — The #24/20 South Carolina Gamecocks earned another signature win Saturday night, opening 2016 with a thrilling 86-76 win over Memphis (9-4). Sindarius Thornwell scored a season-high 18 points and Michael Carrera went for his second double-double in the last three games to lead Carolina to 13-0, its longest win streak since 1969-70. In a game that featured 17 ties and 13 different lead changes, senior leadership and depth proved to be the difference for the home side.
The game was emotionally charged from the first minute of action, but it translated into a reckless game that effected both teams. Nine combined fouls were called in the first three minutes of the game, putting a pair of starters on the bench for the Gamecocks with PJ Dozier and Laimonas Chatkevicius. Carolina would hold an early 9-7 lead thanks to a Chris Silva three-point play, but Memphis would soon answer back.
A 7-0 run from the visitors staked them to their largest lead of the night at 14-9 with 13:48 to play. A Duane Notice 3-pointer would soon tie the game back up at 16-all, but Carolina missed some extra opportunities to take a firm advantage and the lead bounced back and forth for the final ten minutes of the half. A 9-0 run for the Gamecocks in the final four minutes would push their lead as high as six, 39-33, but the Tigers tied it up for halftime on a last-second 3 from Ricky Tarrant.
Neither side was able to adjust to the physicality during the run of play, leading to a carousel of shooters at the free throw line all night. In total, the two teams combined for 68 fouls and 99 free throws in the game. Michael Carrera led the team through the first 20 minutes with 12 points and five rebounds, highlighted by a pair of 3s to fire up an already-stoked crowd of 13,035 at Colonial Life Arena. As a team, though, South Carolina shot just 33 percent from the floor.
The offenses remained chilly from the floor as the second half got underway, but Memphis would warm up just enough to grab an early 50-46 lead. The Gamecocks started just 3-of-15 from the floor through the first eight minutes, compounded by four missed free throws in that same stretch. Carolina was able to tie up the game back up, and would take a 61-59 lead after a pair of free throws by Notice, but neither team would enjoy much of any breathing room as the half wore on.
Memphis’ offense would not extend past the free throw line for most of the final 20 minutes, as it shot just 23 percent from the floor in the second half but did make 16-of-19 at the line. The Tigers went over nine minutes without a field goal until a goaltending call gave them a make with 5:35 to go. By then, though, Carolina had built up a two-possession lead at 70-63 and started to wear into the opposition’s depth with fouls.
In all, five Tigers would foul out and the Gamecocks were able to salt away the game with free throws. A pair of made attempts by Duane Notice with 11 seconds to play gave the Garnet and Black its largest lead of the game, the final margin of 86-76, and also set a new program record for both free throws made and attempted, with 46 and 63, respectively. The win closes out the team’s first undefeated non-conference schedule since the 1933-34 team.
The Gamecocks made 10-of-12 free throws in the final 1:10 of regulation, moving the lead from 76-73 to at least a two-possession game for the home stretch.
A new single-game record was set Saturday night, with the team making 46 free throws. It breaks the record of 44 set against Wake Forest on Feb. 24, 1971. The previous high for attempts alone this season was 42.
South Carolina begins SEC play at Auburn on Tuesday in a 7 p.m. ET matchup vs. the Tigers. It’s Carolina’s first SEC opener on the road since the 2014 campaign at Florida. Dave Neal (pxp) and Daymeon Fishback (analyst) will have the call on the SEC Network. Auburn posted a 71-68 win vs. the Gamecocks last season on its home court.
- Three different players (Carrera, Notice, Thornwell) either set or matched career highs in free throw attempts for the game. Notice also set a new season high in rebounds (with six).
- The Gamecocks pulled down a season-high 53 rebounds, 13 more than Memphis had allowed to opponents on average so far this season.
- The team’s 86 points are the third most for a game so far this season, despite the fact that it made just 18 field goals, five fewer field goals than its previous single-game low for the year.
- South Carolina’s 28 makes at the line in the second half alone is one less than its single-game high coming into tonight.
- With 63 free throw attempts, South Carolina now owns the SEC record for the category, passing Tennessee’s 60 in 2000. 46 made were tied for the second-most in conference history, behind Arkansas (2004) and Tennessee (1992) who each had 48.