Four months ago, I left my position at Hofstra for the University of South Carolina. For twenty eight years of my life, I had spent most of my days on the campus located in Hempstead, New York. Now I spend my work days on the campus located in Columbia, South Carolina. I went from a mid major basketball school to the heart of the SEC, home of big time college football. So it was ironic that on Saturday, I would be attending a tripleheader where my two worlds collided.
In the first game, I proudly wore my Hofstra Basketball sweatshirt. My alma mater had played well for twenty minutes, only to see it be on the receiving end of a 20-0 run at the start of the second half before losing to Tulane. But right before the tip-off of South Carolina vs. Manhattan, I took off my sweatshirt as I was wearing underneath a Gamecocks Basketball T-shirt. I wasn't the only one in the Northeast CAA contingent wearing Garnet. Mike Brodsky was proudly wearing USC athletic wear to support his friends at South Carolina.
Both Manhattan and South Carolina were missing their best players for the game. The Jaspers' George Beamon has been battling injuries all season and sat out the game as Coach Steve Masiello wanted to get him ready for MAAC conference play. Meanwhile, Gamecocks' guard Bruce Ellington didn't make the trip as he was preparing with his fellow football teammates for the Outback Bowl on New Year's Day.
Once again, I was sitting with Tieff, Mike Brodsky, Victoria Rossi and Alex Faust for this second game. I was joined by Ray Curren, who was covering the third of four games for the Mid Majority on the day. We were going to see a much closer game than the first game of the tripleheader.
South Carolina came out strong. As I had seen already several times this season, other than Ellington, the Gamecocks' two other best players are Michael Carrera and Brenton Williams. Williams nailed two three pointers, while Carrera added a three pointer and a layup as well. They combined for all of South Carolina's points early as the Gamecocks went up 11-3.
But also as I had seen several times this season, the Gamecocks allow their opponents to stay in the game. The Jaspers responded with 18-7 run over the next six minutes. Shane Richards hit his second of six three pointers on the day to put Manhattan up 21-18 with 10:19 left in the half.
Neither team would score for nearly three minutes until Lakeem Jackson hit a layup to bring South Carolina within a point, 21-20. It would be part of a Gamecocks' 9-2 spurt capped by a layup by Carrera to put USC up 27-23. After Manhattan rallied to tie the game at 27, the Gamecocks had another spurt as Brian Richardson nailed two three pointers and Carrera added a free throw to put South Carolina up 34-27. They would enter the half up six, 36-30.
Carrera was already impressing our group as he had twelve points and six rebounds, which helped South Carolina to a 23-9 rebounding edge at halftime. He is undersized as far as SEC forwards at six foot five inches. But Carrera plays with the heart of a six foot nine kid and has a high basketball IQ.
Someone at the Barclays Center has a twisted sense of humor. At halftime, they posted the score but listed it with Hofstra and Tulane instead of South Carolina and Manhattan. The scoreboard folks were rubbing salt into a fresh wound for Pride fans like me.
The second half saw South Carolina extend its lead to seven points, 38-31 on a Jackson layup. But Manhattan responded with a 10-0 run. Again, Richards was in the mix, nailing another three pointer. The Jaspers led 41-38 with fourteen minutes left.
But the Gamecocks came back with a 10-0 run of their own. South Carolina forced five Manhattan turnovers over a four minute span. Richardson scored five of those ten points and the Gamecocks were up 48-41 with ten and a half minutes left.
The next several minutes became the Brenton Williams show. Williams scored eight straight points, the last of which was a three pointer that gave the Gamecocks their first double digit lead of the game. South Carolina was up 58-47 with five minutes left in the game.
The Gamecocks would go scoreless for the next two and a half minutes. But Manhattan only managed four points during that span. Williams assisted on a Jackson jumper and South Carolina was back up nine, 60-51 with just under two and a half minutes left in the game.
But Manhattan refused to quit. Mohamed Koita and Richards each hit a three pointer and the lead was down to three, 60-57 with 1:21 left. The Jaspers got the crowd back in the game.
However the Jaspers turned the ball over on each of their next two possessions and would not score again. Richardson, Williams and Carrera, the three leading scorers on the day for the Gamecocks, would each hit one of two free throws. It wasn't pretty, but it was effective for South Carolina, as they won 62-57.
Williams led South Carolina with seventeen points. Carrera, whose only point in the second half came on that free throw, still had thirteen points and Richardson added twelve points. Jackson just missed a double double with nine points and eleven rebounds.
Richards led all scorers with eighteen points on six of twelve shooting from beyond the arc. Rhamel Brown just missed a double double with ten points and nine rebounds. He would have easily had more points if he was better than two of ten from the free throw line. Donovan Kates, however, had a good day at the line as he was eight of ten, which helped him score thirteen points for the game.
It was the eighth win on the season for Head Coach Frank Martin, who at times on the sideline looked like he needed some Pepto Bismol. His team gave him reason for an upset stomach with nineteen turnovers, but they still won. In fact, they are only two wins away from matching last year's win total, ten. The Gamecocks didn't win their tenth game last season until my birthday, February 15.
And despite how fiery Martin is, it wasn't him that got the technical foul call. Manhattan's Masiello got a technical in the second half, which contributed to that game changing 10-0 South Carolina run. As for Masiello, he has to hope that George Beamon is ready for conference play. Manhattan, the preseason favorite to win the MAAC, is only 3-7 so far this season.
I said my goodbyes to the Northeast CAA gang and Ray Curren, who was staying for the Seton Hall - LIU Brooklyn game for his canasta of hoops on the day. Tieff and I made our way back to Atlantic Terminal, then said goodbye at Jamaica station as we each had separate trains to Bellmore and Hicksville respectively.
I know what you're saying. How could I pass up a third game of a basketball tripleheader? After spending the rest of the evening looking at Christmas lights with my wife and two boys, I hope the picture to the left answers your question.
Plus, the basketball season is still young. I still had a game to see on Sunday with Iona hosting Norfolk State and there are plenty of more games left to see. And oh yes, I am making plans to be at Barclays again in March for the Atlantic 10 Tournament.
Also, after seeing your alma mater in the first game and then your new home team play the second game, that was a fitting end to my basketball day. Anything more would have been anticlimactic.
Besides, two is a nice even number, in basketball and in life.