South Carolina Basketball: Gamecocks play well in opening win over USC-Upstate

South Carolina basketball head coach Lamont Paris. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
South Carolina basketball head coach Lamont Paris. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports /
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College basketball season is finally upon us, and the South Carolina basketball team looked to start year two of the Lamont Paris era with a win on Monday night. After Dawn Staley’s women’s team opened the day with a blowout win over Notre Dame in Paris, France, the men were hoping to make it a 2-0 day for Gamecock basketball.

For this first game, South Carolina basketball welcomed USC-Upstate to Colonial Life Arena for an in-state battle. Stephen Clark won the tip for the Gamecocks, and the 2023-2024 season was underway.

Some missed shots from both teams loosened up the rims before BJ Mack used his strength advantage to beat guard Trae Broadnax in the paint for the first points of the game, but Upstate’s Nick Alves answered with a short jumper to get both teams on the board.

Neither team played poorly over the next few minutes, but made baskets were difficult to come by as neither team had hit double-digit scoring by the media timeout that came at the 15:00 mark.

Former Gamecock Patrick Iriel (who never played a game for USC) fouled Meechie Johnson, and Johnson made both free throws. His six early points were four more than his entire game total in the Wofford exhibition.

The Gamecock perimeter defense also was better than it was in the early goings against Wofford as Carolina led 14-7 at the 12:00 mark of the first half. Johnson’s hot start continued with a nice reverse layup with his left hand. An Ahmir Langlais lob finish ended a Spartan scoring drought that had lasted over four minutes.

A nice screen from Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk freed up Johnson behind the arc for his second made 3-pointer of the game, but Upstate scored 4 straight before the next media timeout. BBV had a hard-work offensive rebound result in his first two points of the season, and Stephen Clark followed up with his first made shot to bring the lead to 25-13.

Sophomore Spartan Justin Bailey made his second 3-point shot of the contest, and Nick Alves raised his scoring total to 6, shrinking the USC lead to 7 points. After a few back-and-forth baskets, the lead stayed at 7 until the under-4:00 timeout.

To make the score 31-22, a beautiful cross-court skip pass from Morris Ugusuk found Myles Stute in the corner where he pump faked, drove baseline, and hit the reverse layup. Less than a minute later, Stephen Clark had a bad turnover and a worse foul on a 3-pointer. The lead was down to 6.

Ta’Lon Cooper, Jacobi Wright, and Morris Ugusuk did a good job orchestrating the offense down the stretch of the first half as USC ran a 4-out around big man Josh Gray (and then BJ Mack after a substitution). Ugusuk’s first official points came on a 3 from the top of the key, and the Gamecocks got another stop leading to two Meechie Johnson free throws to end the half.

A strong defensive half (held USC-Upstate to 37% shooting) and some solid offense (shot 54%) combined with a doubled-up effort on the glass (20-10 in favor of the Gamecocks) led South Carolina basketball to an easy 14-point halftime lead.

Sloppy play at the beginning of the second half allowed USC-Upstate to get back into the game. Three quick turnovers brought the Spartans back within 10 points, but a BJ Mack 3 and Stephen Clark fast break dunk erased the ground that Upstate had made up in the first few minutes of action.

A 47-32 Carolina lead grew to 53-34 after a pair of long balls from Mack and Myles Stute. Mack got his open look on a basic pick-and-pop, while Stute migrated to the corner where a probing Ta’Lon Cooper found him after drawing the defense into the lane.

The lead grew to 23 before Upstate went on a run to cut the score to 57-44 with under 11:00 to go in the game. Another Myles Stute corner 3 ended the run, and five-straight points from Ta’Lon Cooper ballooned the lead back to 21 points.

The run didn’t end there, however. Even with a few subs, the lead grew with a BJ 3-pointer. Miguel Ayesa answered for Upstate, but Meechie Johnson brought the ball all the way down the floor for a layup before USC-Upstate coach Dave Dickerson took a timeout.

Jordyn Surratt hit the first shot after the timeout for the Spartans, but a few buckets for each side left the score at 72-51 with 4:00 to go. The crowd had one of its loudest moments a couple of minutes later when Eli Sparkman hit two free throws to extend the lead to 78-51. The actual loudest moment came a minute later when Iriel missed both free throws, granting free Chick-fil-A for all in attendance.

A nice alley-oop from Morris Ugusuk to Zach Davis served as an exclamation point on what was a dominant victory. Year 2 for Lamon Paris started off with an 82-53 win. The Gamecocks won the shooting battle by an impressive 54%/55% to 36%/25% margin.