Friday, November 28, 2014

A Balanced South Carolina Bounces Back With Win over UNC Asheville

South Carolina appeared to have a good opportunity for success in the Charleston Classic Tournament.  They handily won their first game over Cornell 69-45.  In the second game, they were up twelve on Charlotte, 30-18 in the first half and seemed to be on their way to the championship game.   But it went all downhill from there.

Charlotte rallied from that deficit and took the lead late in the second half.  The Gamecocks rallied to tie the game at 63 with a little less than two minutes left in the game and had a chance to take the lead. The 49ers made two free throws and held off the Gamecocks 65-63. 

Then South Carolina faced Akron in the third place game, a team the Gamecocks handily beat twice last season; a ten point win in the Diamond Head classic and a thirty point regular season game blowout a few days later.  This time was different.  The Zips controlled most of the game, even going up by twelve points early in the second half.  South Carolina rallied to tie the game late but eventually lost to Akron 68-63.

Thus the Gamecocks came home with a losing record from Charleston, 2-3 on the season.  They were hoping Wednesday night that the Bulldogs of UNC Asheville would be the cure to their ailing woes, specifically in the three point shooting department.  In their losses to Charlotte and Akron, South Carolina shot a combined five of twenty eight from beyond the arc (eighteen percent).   However, the Gamecocks would have to play the Bulldogs without their starting forward Michael Carrera who suffered a concussion and a sprained ankle in practice during the week.

Since it was Thanksgiving Eve, which is what many call the biggest night out of the year, and students were off on break,  the Colonial Life Arena was not as filled as usual.  In fact, it was the smallest crowd of the men's or women's basketball seasons so far, with 8223 only in attendance.  Three of those people in attendance were my friend Ian McCormick, veteran Mid Majority writer, who sat with my color analyst, aka my older son Matthew and me.

Those in attendance saw the Gamecocks continue their struggles early on, as the Bulldogs came out firing, well more specifically, Andrew Rowsey came out firing.   Rowsey scored eight quick points, two on three pointers and he assisted on a three pointer by Kem Ubaru.  UNC Asheville was up 12-6 a little more than five minutes into the contest.

This was not the first time I had seen the sophomore Rowsey (#15 in the pictures) play in person.   Last season, I watched Rowsey light up the College of Charleston at TD Arena, as he lead his team to a 67-58 overtime victory over the Cougars.  Rowsey scored twenty three points on eight of eleven shooting, including three from beyond the arc.  Rowsey is an exciting player to watch.  He is quick, has incredibly long range, very accurate shooter (shoots forty six percent from three ) and is not shy about launching a three.

The Gamecocks would respond with a 7-1 mini spurt to tie the game at thirteen.  The Gamecocks tied the game on a three pointer by Justin McKie, a sophomore who has worked his way into the rotation with his solid play.  

After Ubaru put the Bulldogs back up one, 14-13, hitting one of his two free throw attempts, South Carolina would again go on a spurt, this time a 14-0 run over nearly four minutes.  Freshman Marcus Stroman would cap the rally with a layup that resulted in a three point play.  Stroman's free throw gave the Gamecocks a 27-14 lead. 

However, the Bulldogs would respond, again led by Rowsey and a couple of turnovers by Stroman.  Rowsey's two three pointers would ignite an 11-3 UNC Asheville run.  Rowsey's fourth three pointer on the day made the score 30-25 South Carolina with 6:43 left.    The Gamecocks would extend the lead a little going into halftime, 37-29.

The first half was somewhat sloppy, as both teams combined for sixteen turnovers.  As for the Gamecocks, that meant Frank Martin was particularly unhappy on the night.  And unfortunately for South Carolina, the sloppy play would continue into the second half, making Coach Martin REALLY unhappy.

After Tyrone Johnson hit a layup to extend the Gamecocks' lead to ten, 39-29, the Bulldogs responded with five points as Rowsey assisted again on a Ubaru three pointer, then hit a layup of his own to make the score 39-34.  

Then the turnover fest really went into high gear.  Over the first six minutes of the second half, both teams combined for eight turnovers.  This allowed UNC Asheville to hang around in the game.  After hitting another three pointer, his fifth of the game, Rowsey hit two free throws to keep the Bulldogs within ten, 53-43.

But with about twelve and half minutes left in the game, Rowsey was then called for an offensive foul, his fourth.  Rowsey, who had twenty three points at the time,  was forced to go to the bench.  Once Rowsey left the game, UNC Asheville was done.

The Gamecocks took advantage, outscoring the Bulldogs 19-9 over the next seven minutes. This included a span of three plus minutes where the Bulldogs didn't score a point.  A Sindarius Thornwell dunk gave South Carolina a 72-52 lead with a little under six minutes left in the game.

Rowsey would re-enter the game and cut the lead to fourteen, 72-58 with his sixth three pointer of the game.  But the damage had already been done and the Bulldogs would not get closer the rest of the game.   In a high scoring second half, where both teams would combine for nearly one hundred points, the Gamecocks would go on for the 89-75 win.  

Despite the twenty turnovers on the game, there were some bright spots for South Carolina.   The team did have twenty one assists, six by Stroman and six by Thornwell.  The Gamecocks shot eight of seventeen from beyond the arc.  And there was a concerted effort to have balanced scoring, especially working the ball into the USC bigs.  Chatkevicus scored a career high seventeen points and had his first career double double with thirteen rebounds, shooting six of eleven from the field.   He also buried two three pointers, also the first two of his career.

Demetrius Henry had fifteen points on six of eleven shooting.  The Carolina bigs combined to shoot fourteen of twenty six from the field.   Tyrone Johnson, Thornwell and Duane Notice each had twelve points as all five starters scored in double figures.  McKie chipped in with eight points in only thirteen minutes of action.  Finally, USC shot nineteen of twenty six from the charity stripe.

Rowsey led all scorers with thirty points on ten of eighteen shooting from the field, including six of twelve from beyond the arc.  David Robertson was the only other Bulldog in double figures with fifteen as he hit five of nine shots from beyond the arc.   The rest of UNC Asheville shot an unseemly eight of thirty five from the field (twenty three percent).  Ubaru particularly had a rough night shooting two of eleven from the field, though he hit both of his three point attempts.

The Gamecocks next game is on the road vs. Marshall Sunday, December 1st.  It will be USC's first real road game of the season.  In fact it will be their first game outside the state of South Carolina after three home games and three neutral site games in Charleston.  This will be a good test for the Gamecocks as the Thundering Herd are in the top twenty five in the country in rebounding and assists.    South Carolina will again need balance and better ball handling to prevail.

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