Heading into Tuesday's Tipoff Marathon game against Baylor, South Carolina was looking for payback for a tough two point loss, 66-64 at the Bears' home court last season. They certainly looked strong entering the contest, as they started their opening season with an 81-56 win over the Ospreys of North Florida last Friday night. The Gamecocks had momentum, the home court advantage and revenge on their side for the nationally televised noon start on ESPN, which for many people in attendance was a long lunch break.
The problem was that they didn't have the frontcourt on their side to handle Baylor.
The Bears started out quickly with five straight points as Jonathan Motley, who would be a load inside all day for Baylor, scored the first two points of the game. The Gamecocks would respond by outscoring the Bears 9-2 over the next four plus minutes. Sindarius Thornwell's two free throws put South Carolina up 9-7.
The Gamecocks would go up by as much as four points, 22-18. But they would commit four turnovers in the last five and a half minutes of the first half. Baylor took advantage of this, outscoring South Carolina 12-5. Motley again would be a difference maker, scoring a basket with two seconds left in the half to put the Bears up 30-27 at the halftime.
During halftime, I went to see my good friend Mike Brodsky, known as @NUHF on Twitter, who came down from Boston for the game (and is somewhere having crab legs as he celebrates Northeastern's win over Florida State). He was sitting with former Northeastern forward Kauri Black, who is going to South Carolina for his Masters. Mike and I caught up on life, then messed with Defiantly Dutch's head by having Kauri take a picture of the Barone Bowl Buddies and posting it on Twitter.
It was the last lead South Carolina had on the day. If Motley was not being a load inside for the Bears, it was Kenny Chery frustrating the Gamecocks from beyond the arc. Chery's three pointer, one of three on the day for him, put the Bears up 38-36. It was the start of a critical 15-6 run over the next four minutes. A Taurean Prince three pointer capped the run and gave the Bears a 50-42 lead with 12:20 left.
The lead would still be eight, 57-49 with 7:44 left when Marcus Stroman nailed a three pointer to cut the deficit to five, 57-52. The freshman Stroman would have another solid game for the Gamecocks, scoring ten points, grabbing five rebounds and adding three assists with only one turnover in twenty seven minutes of play.
The Gamecocks made one last run, scoring seven straight points. A Stroman tip in cut the deficit to three, 64-61 with about two and a half minutes left. Then South Carolina had a chance to tie, but Tyrone Johnson missed an open three pointer. A Motley tip in off a rebound would be the final dagger, giving the Bears a 66-61 lead.
Johnson, Thornwell and Stroman combined for forty seven points on seventeen of thirty four from the field. The problem was the rest of the Gamecocks shot five of twenty from the field. The Baylor frontcourt outscored the South Carolina frontcourt 37-18. Motley had seventeen of those points for the Bears, shooting six of nine from the field and hitting all five of his free throws. Carrera had ten of the eighteen Gamecocks' frontcourt points.
As Gary, Charlie and I left Colonial Life Arena and headed back to our jobs at USC, we lamented the fact that the Gamecocks got little scoring from their forwards. The bright side is that South Carolina has a terrific guard trio in Thornwell, Johnson and Stroman. But the Gamecocks need to get their post players more involved.
The bright side is that this weekend's Charleston Classic will give South Carolina three opportunities to improve on that.