NEW YORK, N.Y. — The South Carolina men’s basketball team picked up another top-25 victory Saturday afternoon, earning a 64-50 win over No. 18/16 Syracuse (4-1) in the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. as part of the Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Invite. The Gamecocks (6-0) had three players score 15 points or more, and used a fierce defensive effort to hold the Orange to 36 points under their season scoring average.
The Gamecocks set the tone early against Syracuse, softening its vaunted zone defense with a pair of 3s from Sindarius Thornwell and PJ Dozierto open the game. It took Carolina just 25 seconds to earn a lead it held for the entire half – and ultimately, the game – and after an 8-0 run the lead grew to 20-11 and remained at least a two-possession game for the final 10 minutes of the period.
South Carolina’s defense frustrated and harassed the Orange, limiting them to just eight field goals total in the half and a 34 percent success rate from the floor. Driven by 21 points combined from Thornwell and Dozier, the Gamecocks took a 37-26 lead into the halftime break. As a team, South Carolina shot 50 percent in the half, making 11-of-21 attempts on two-point field goals thanks to great dribble penetration from the point guard tandem of Dozier and Thornwell. The duo’s ability to get inside Syracuse’s zone paid off all afternoon, with South Carolina enjoying a 30-8 margin in points in the paint by the time the final buzzer sounded.
Syracuse made a strong push out of intermission, starting with an 8-3 run to get the Barclays Center crowd of 8,733 on their feet in a 40-34 game. A Thornwell layup off a Maik Kotsar steal broke off the momentum for a spell, but Syracuse’s pressure did not let up. Freshman Sedee Keita gave South Carolina some juice off a big block on a dunk attempt, with the ensuing rebound scooped up and taken coast-to-coast by Hassani Gravett for the lay-in. After the Orange split a pair of free throws, Duane Notice relived some more pressure on a deep 3-pointer to make it a 47-39 game with 13 minutes still to play in the game.
Foul troubles would be a major hurdle early in the second half for the Gamecocks, as Syracuse went into the double bonus with 11 minutes still to play while the Gamecocks saw the Orange whistled just twice in the same span. Free throw opportunities gave Syracuse a chance stop the clock and cut into its deficit, but Frank Howard missed four straight shots at the line to keep Carolina ahead by three possessions, 51-43, at the eight-minute mark. South Carolina’s defense made sure that free throws would be the best looks the opposition could get; the Gamecocks held Syracuse without a made field goal from the 15:16 mark until a 3-pointer finally broke the spell with 6:37 to play.
South Carolina’s offense would not enjoy the same success as its defense, though, as a scoring drought from 10:32 to 4:37 kept it from taking advantage of Syracuse’s struggles. Kotsar flipped in his tenth point of the game off a helper from Thornwell to snap the dry spell and make it 53-46 with four minutes to go. The Orange’s 17th turnover of the game on the following possession helped Carolina continue what would become a key 6-0 run over a span of three and a half minutes that put the Gamecocks back ahead by double-digits, 57-46, and they would cruise to the 64-50 win thanks to a 7-of-8 success rate at the free throw line down the stretch and just one Syracuse field goal over the final three minutes.
Just three days removed from holding No. 25 Michigan to 46 points, South Carolina’s defense stepped up again, limiting Syracuse to just 31.8 percent shooting from the field (27.5 on two-point field goals). The Orange came into Saturday’s game averaging 86.3 points and a 52.4 field goal percentage in their first four games of 2016-17.
- The Gamecocks picked up back-to-back wins over ranked opponents for the first time since 2008-09, when the team took down No. 24 Florida and No. 24 Kentucky over a span of ten days. Head coach Frank Martin now has 24 wins over top-25 teams in his career.
- South Carolina is now 3-0 in the Barclays Center, with two straight wins over top-25 teams as well. The Gamecocks beat No. 9 Iowa State in its last trip to Brooklyn, on Jan. 3, 2015.
- Sindarius Thornwell was named the Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Invite MVP after scoring 16 points with six rebounds, five assists and three steals.
- Maik Kotsar held his own against a tough interior presence from Syracuse. The freshman forward finished with a season-high 16 points and a pair of steals. This is the third straight game in double figures for the native of Tallin, Estonia.
- The Gamecocks picked up 12 steals in the win, a new season high. The previous best this year was seven against Monmouth.
- PJ Dozier tallied his first career double-double in the game, pulling down 10 rebounds to go with 15 points. The sophomore guard’s previous high was nine against Hofstra on Nov. 22 of last season.
- South Carolina has now won two straight in the all-time series. The last matchup between the two programs came in the 2002 postseason NIT.
South Carolina returns home to host a pair of non-conference matchups next week when Vermont (Dec. 1) and FIU (Dec. 4) travel to Colonial Life Arena. Tip time versus Vermont is set for 6:30 p.m.