South Carolina Basketball: Gamecocks overcome ugly play to beat VMI, move to 3-0

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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South Carolina basketball has started the second season of the Lamont Paris era with back-to-back victories over USC-Upstate and Virginia Tech. The 2022-2023 version of the Gamecocks also started 2-0, but this year’s USC squad hopes also to win its third game, something they were unable to do last year as the Paris’ first team lost three straight after the 2-0 start.

Carolina welcomed the VMI Keydets to Colonial Life Arena on Monday, but the Gamecocks were without Ebrima Dibba and Zach Davis. Josh Gray missed Friday’s game with an illness but was available for Monday’s game.

The same starting group took the floor for the opening tip as Ta’Lon Cooper, Meechie Johnson, Myles Stute, Stephen Clark, and BJ Mack were the first five on the floor.

After a few frantic possessions by its side, Stephen Clark opened the scoring with a nice post spin, and after a stop, Mack scored off of a pivot through a foul. Jacobi Wright and Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk replaced Clark and Mack as the first subs, and the lead grew to 6-0 before DJ Nussbaum finally got VMI on the scoreboard.

The pace bogged down a bit as the shots stopped falling for the Gamecocks. At the under-16 timeout, the lead was just 7-6 for USC. The scoring drought continued until it reached four minutes. A BBV hook shot ended the drought and was followed by a Morris Ugusuk dunk in the fast break before the Keydets ended a 3-minute scoreless stretch of their own.

The game’s 3rd and 4th tie-ups in the first 7 1/2 minutes of action came on back-to-back possessions, and they were emblematic of the ugly start to this one. The score stood 11-8 at the 12:00 mark as both teams were shooting under 40% from the field and missed multiple free throws.

After two Tyran Cook free throws cut the lead to one, Josh Gray missed a dunk through contact but didn’t get a foul call. Brennan Watkins gave VMI their first lead 12-11 after making two free throws of his own. DJ Nussbaum pushed that lead to 3 as the 22% shooting of the Gamecocks led to a scoreless stretch that lasted 4 1/2 minutes before Meechie Johnson tied the score with a 3-point jumper.

A lightning-quick 9-0 run brought the count to 20-14 in less than two minutes of game clock. The run eventually grew to an 11-0 after some Myles Stute free throws. A few minutes later, BJ Mack made just the 2nd 3-pointer of the game to make the score 25-16, and freshman Koree Cotton immediately answered for VMI for the Keydets’ first long ball.

After the slow start to the game’s scoring, both teams got hot as the two teams combined to make 7 shots in a row, but the Gamecocks were hotter. Back-to-back 3s from Myles Stute and Morris Ugusuk brought the score to 39-25. After starting 0-6 from long range, the Gamecocks were all of a sudden shooting 5-12 from deep.

Taeshaud Jackson hit a tough jumper for VMI to bring his scoring total to 8 points, and Nussbaum scored again in the paint to cut the lead to 41-33 for the final points of the 1st half.

After the intermission, Meechie Johnson hit a nice baseline pull-up for a basket and got hacked on a drive on the next possession, but no foul was called. The Gamecocks held the Keydets scoreless for 3 1/2 minutes to start the half, and BJ Mack and Stephen Clark scored in the meantime. After a Koree Cotton make ended the drought, the score stood 47-35 in favor of the CourtCocks.

Tyran Cook hit the second 3-pointer of the night for VMI to bring the lead back to single-digits, but Myles Stute and BJ Mack answered with a pair of free throws each. Mack picked up his 10th rebound (and, thus, a double-double) with 14 minutes to go in the game.

Another long cold spell from VMI (over 3 minutes) saw the Gamecocks score seven straight points to inflate their lead to 57-40. Some ugly basketball from both sides followed, but in the chaos, VMI outscored the Gamecocks 5-2 as the game clock approached the 10 minute mark.

The Gamecocks earned their way back up to a 15-point lead as Eli Sparkman and Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk each scored. The pace slowed as both teams played more halfcourt basketball, and both teams missed more shots. A timeout was taken with 6 minutes remaining, and the score remained 65-50.

The score didn’t move until a Koree Cotton contested layup fell about a minute and a half later, but the Gamecocks grew their lead when Jacobi Wright hit a 3-pointer on the next possession. A 5-0 run from VMI made the score 68-57, but time was running out for a Keydet comeback as just 3 minutes remained in the game.

A BJ Mack putback was followed by a Cotton 3-ball, and South Carolina basketball held just a 70-60 lead with 2:30 left on the clock. Tyran Cook cut the lead to 8, but BJ Mack backed down DJ Nussbaum and put the ball through the hoop to settle the score back to double-digits.

From there, the Gamecocks played the “don’t-foul-and-hope-to-waste-clock” defense, and a clock-killing offense. A Brennan Watkins layup for VMI was followed by two free throws from Meechie Johnson that ended the threat. South Carolina basketball picked up the win 74-64.

South Carolina basketball is 3-0 and will continue the AZ Tipoff when they take on the DePaul Blue Demons (and former Gamecock Chico Carter) on Friday, November 17th at 11:30 PM on the CBSSports Network.