Thursday night was a chance for South Carolina to get another home win and put a crimp in another SEC's team's plans of making the NCAA Tournament. A week ago, the Gamecocks knocked off Ole Miss, damaging the Rebels chances of making the Big Dance. Now South Carolina was hosting Missouri, a team they barely lost to in Columbia, Missouri in their first matchup of the season.
Speaking of Columbia, Missouri, a lot of Tigers' fans made the 870 mile trip and Colonial Life Arena had a fair share of yellow sprinkled throughout the stands. As for Gamecocks fans, whether it was the 9:00 PM start or the team's 3-11 record going into the game, thirty minutes before game time, the arena was quite empty. It would fill up around game time for an attendance of over 9,300.
The Tigers came out roaring in the first few minutes. Keion Bell and Jabari Brown combined for eleven points and three assists and Missouri went out to a 13-5 lead not even four minutes into the game. This was not surprising for a team that is twentieth in the country in scoring, averaging 76.7 points per game.
The under sixteen minute media timeout came in handy for the Gamecocks as they regrouped out of the break. Mindaugas Kacinas and Brian Richardson each buried a three pointer and South Carolina had cut the lead to two, 13-11. After Missouri extended the lead back to five, Brenton Williams would score five straight points on a three pointer and a jumper to tie the game at seventeen.
The Tigers would respond with a 9-0 run over the next three minutes to go up 26-17. But the Gamecocks returned fire, with Damien Leonard burying three 3 pointers during a 15-6 spurt over a span of three and a half minutes. Bruce Ellington's jumper tied the game at thirty two with five and a half minutes. The Gamecocks had hit on seven three pointers in the first fourteen and a half of minutes of the game and yet were only tied with the Tigers.
Once again Missouri responded outscoring South Carolina 13-6 the rest of the half as Bell scored five more points. Bell would have eighteen first half points, nearly seven more than his scoring average on the season. The Tigers would enter halftime up 45-38.
At the start of the second half, it was clear the plan for Missouri was to go into Alex Oriakhi inside, since South Carolina had no one big enough or athletic enough to cover him. The Tigers quickly went out on a 9-2 run over the first two and a half minutes. Brown's layup put Missouri up 54-40 with 17:30 left in the game. When Oriakhi hit on a three point play to put Missouri up 57-42, Oriakhi, Brown and Bell had combined for forty eight of the Tigers' fifty seven points.
During the first twenty minutes of the game, the Gamecocks were able to hang with the Tigers due in large part to their three point shooting. But in the first nine minutes of the second half, the Gamecocks missed on seven of their eight three point attempts. Meanwhile, the Tigers continued their offensive onslaught. Missouri, led by Oriakhi's dominance inside the paint, extended their run to 31-13 over eleven plus minutes. Tony Criswell's layup with a little under eleven minutes left in the game put the Tigers up 76-51.
By this time, a good number of South Carolina fans had made their way to the exits, much to the pleasure of the Missouri fans sitting behind me in Section 113. The only brief glimpse of hope was when Brian Richardson scored four straight points for the Gamecocks. This resulted in Mike Anderson calling timeout, furious in his team's brief defensive lapses.
South Carolina was only able to briefly cut the Missouri lead down to nineteen, 79-60 with 7:42 left. But the Tigers got the lead back up to twenty four, 87-63 on a Lawrence Bowers dunk with three and a half minutes left in the game. Around this time, the mass exodus of fans had begun.
With two and a half minutes left in the game, as I surveyed the arena, it looked exactly as it was thirty minutes before the start of the game. I stayed till the bitter end as Missouri downed South Carolina 90-68.
The Tigers relentless efficient offense shot seventy two percent in the second half and nearly seventy percent for the game (69.6%). They only attempted nine three pointers, but hit six of them. Missouri took ten less shots than South Carolina but hit on eight more shots than the Gamecocks. The Tigers were even efficient from the line, hitting twenty of twenty six shots.
Bell led all scorers with twenty four points, while Brown had twenty three points and Oriahki added eighteen. The three combined to shoot twenty two of twenty eight from the field and eighteen of twenty three from the free throw line. I can't remember the last time I saw three players combined be so dominant yet so efficient in their scoring. Paul Pressey was scoreless but more importantly had nine assists. The Tigers are now 20-8 overall and 9-6 in the SEC. That should probably be enough to at least get an at large bid.
South Carolina was led by Leonard, who had a career high twenty points coming off the bench. Richardson and Williams also came off the bench to score ten points each for the Gamecocks. Michael Carrera was the leading scorer for the starters with nine points. The bench outscored the starters 49-19. After Coach Martin comparing his team's play against LSU to the zombies in "Night of the Living Dead", I wondered if he had any comment in the post game press conference on this night's potential zombie sequel.
I left Colonial Life Arena and made my way to the parking lot next to the construction for the new Moore Business School building. It was apparent as I crossed Lincoln Street that most fans had already left. I was able to quickly get out of the parking lot and head back to Gervais Street for the trip home.
As I waited for the light to change on Park and Gervais Street, I was wondering why I was so bothered about not having to be stuck in traffic. Then I realized, I much rather wanted to see the Gamecocks win and battle cars out of the school parking lot then have a quick getaway. With only one home game left in the season, here's to hoping Coach Martin turning it around next season.
I actually look forward to regular traffic jams after Gamecocks' basketball games.