COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina doubled down on a season opening victory, claiming a 78-60 home win Monday night over Western Michigan in its second encounter.
The Gamecocks managed to get a bit of breathing room late in the first half, opening a nine-point lead at the break. They remained on top throughout the second half, gradually increasing the lead.
“It was just a little too much South Carolina tonight,” said Western Michigan coach Steve Hawkins. “Their defense just kept us at arm’s length all night. We hoped to lock down on their inside guys, but their guys seemed to make every 3. That opened things up for those to maneuver after that.”
The inside duo of Chris Silva and Maik Kotsar dominated action inside, allowing USC to connect on 26 of 57 field goals, while holding Western Michigan to 21 of 58.
Despite its statistical dominance, South Carolina watched a 17-point lead cut to nine with 7:50 remaining. The Gamecocks had an answer for each Western Michigan run, however.
While the inside duo was responsible for obtaining the lead, point guard Hassani Gravett hit three late 3-pointers to allow South Carolina’s advantage to grow to as much as 19.
He led the Gamecocks in scoring with 15. Frank Booker followed with 14, while Silva and Kotsar each scored 10 and hauled in a combined 13 rebounds.
“A real good win for us,” said USC coach Frank Martin. “They’ve got a really good team. I’m real proud of the guys. I did a poor job preparing these guys.For as bad of a job as I did preparing us offensively, they did a good job on the court.
“For a young squad, our guys adapted pretty well.”
Western Michigan’s Thomas Wilder led all scorers with 21, earning most of his points driving to the basket. Bryce Moore and Josh Davis followed with 12 and 11 points respectively.
The Gamecocks unveiled the 2017 Final Four banner prior to the game but, following the loss of its top four guards, South Carolina coach Frank Martin is looking for combinations that can give the team consistency.
Hassani Gravett, who is serving as the squad’s starting point guard, played little in the first half after being pulled from the game early. He was solid in the second half, however, consistently hitting 3-point jump shots when the Gamecocks needed them most.
While the backcourt remains a work in progress, the play of Gravette, transfer Kory Holden and graduate transfer Frank Booker should give the team a lift.
“I just let go of the first half,” said Gravett. “I didn’t get to get to play and I knew I was going to be full of energy for the second half. I just tried to come out and help my team as best I could.”
Picked to win the MAC Conference, Western Michigan will hope to get back on track with a solid performance at the Puerto Rico tournament in Conway, S.C.
South Carolina faces Illinois State, Thursday in the Puerto Rican Classic, which will be played in Conway, S.C. The tournament had to be relocated following the devastation of the island following Hurricane Maria.
Western Michigan faces Tulsa, Thursday, in the same tournament which is being hosted by Coastal Carolina.