In the middle of the night on Friday (and into Saturday), South Carolina basketball beat old friend Chico Carter and the DePaul Blue Demons to advance to the finals of the Arizona Tipoff where the Grand Canyon Antelopes were waiting. Less than 48 hours later, the Gamecocks were on the court again in front of a ‘Lopes-heavy crowd that only had to travel 10 miles to attend the Tipoff.
The starters did not change for the Gamecocks as Ta’Lon Cooper, Meechie Johnson, Myles Stute, BJ Mack, and Stephen Clark were the first five on the color for South Carolina basketball.
Grand Canyon coach Bryce Drew had his team attacking the paint early. With a struggling Stephen Clark and a more grounded athlete like BJ Mack, the plan worked for 4 quick points (2 free throws and a bucket), but USC went on an 8-0 run as an answer.
A nice back cut from Meechie Johnson, a spot-up 3-pointer from BJ Mack, and a corner jumper from Myles Stute gave the Gamecocks the 8-4 lead. From there, the scoring slowed down. 6 minutes into the game, the score was 12-7.
As evidenced by the low scoring numbers, the Carolina defense was solid early, forcing a lot of tough shots and turnovers from the ‘Lopes. Nearing the midway point of the 1st half, the Gamecocks had 7 takeaways and forced GCU to shoot 23% from the floor.
Neither team scored for over four minutes until Tyon Grant-Foster hit two free throws. The Gamecocks were in some mild foul trouble as both Zach Davis and Myles Stute (USC’s primary small forwards) had two fouls in the first 11 minutes of the game.
South Carolina’s scoring drought extended to 5 minutes, but the strong Gamecock defense kept them ahead. A Stephen Clark block led to the former Citadel Bulldog scoring his first points of the game on the other end on a nice dribble drive. A Grant-Foster bucket, Meechie Johnson 3-pointer, and Ray Harrison make moved the score to 21-17 with about 6 minutes left in the opening half.
The game got really physical (mainly with a lot of accidental contact), but the officials did not blow their whistles with more frequency. Big man Stephen Clark had to leave the game momentarily after taking an inadvertent fist to the eye and nose. Myles Stute, in particular, was vocal in his complaints against the referees.
Another BJ Mack longball extended Carolina’s lead to 26-19, but Stute got banged for a technical foul after a no-call resulted in a turnover. It was Stute’s 3rd foul. The lack of whistles was affecting the Gamecocks in a big way as Lamont Paris’ team still had not attempted their first free throw with 3 minutes left in the half.
Grant-Foster hit a step-back 3-pointer after Ray Harrison made the technical free throws. Harrison went to the line again two possessions later, and all of a sudden, the game was tied 26-26 with just over 2 minutes to go.
Jacobi Wright free throws re-gained the lead for South Carolina basketball, but BJ Mack picked up his 2nd foul, but a Gabe McGlothan 3-pointer put the ‘Lopes up by 1. Meechie Johnson answered with a midrange make to put the Gamecocks up 30-29 heading into the intermission.
After the break, Ta’Lon Cooper and Stephen Clark each picked up their 2nd fouls in the first 15 seconds of play, and McGlothan put his team ahead momentarily before BJ Mack’s 3rd 3-pointer put Carolina up 33-31.
The uncalled physicality from the 1st half continued in the early minutes of the 2nd as bodies were falling all over the floor in Arizona.
Two Mack free throws (just USC’s third and fourth attempts of the game) made him the game’s first double-digit scorer, and McGlothan joined him a few possessions later.
Both teams attacked the paint over the next few possessions, but South Carolina made three to Grand Canyon’s 1, boosting the lead to 45-37 with 13:42 left in the game. The teams traded buckets for a couple of possessions, and then the officials started calling some fouls. Four fouls in less than 90 seconds put both teams near the bonus (both got there before the 10:00 mark).
A Zach Davis open 3-pointer gave South Carolina basketball its biggest lead of the game at 50-41, and McGlothan and Mack traded post buckets before McGlothan picked up his 4th foul and had to leave the game.
The lead grew to 11 after Mack knocked down his shots at the charity stripe, but a Collin Moore jumper made the score 56-48. The normally mild-mannered Meechie Johnson got as fired up as he ever had been after another non-foul went against the Gamecocks. Gabe McGlothan (playing with 4 fouls) fouled Johnson and jawed at him, but no call was made.
After GCU cut the lead to 7 points, Josh Gray imposed his will inside. He picked up two offensive rebounds and scored through contact, drawing the 4th foul on Tyon Grant-Foster. Gray missed the free throw, the Gamecocks’ first miss from the line on the night (they were 6-6 prior).
BJ Mack returned to the game with 4 fouls after Josh Gray had a rare 2-2 trip to the free throw line. Ray Harrison immediately hit a pull-up jumper to make the score 61-55, and a couple of possessions later, Tyon Grant-Foster beat Zach Davis off the dribble to cut the lead to 4.
A soft call against Myles Stute on a rebound meant he also had 4 fouls, and Gabe McGlothan was able to cut the lead to 61-59. However, on the other end, BJ Mack did it again, knocking down his 4th triple of the game. He came down on defense and took a (risky) charge to get the ball back for his offense.
After a timeout, Mack was open again after a pick-and-pop. He didn’t make the shot but drew the foul. He knocked down all three of the freebies to go up 67-59.
With 2:30 to go, Collin Moore hit a deep 3-pointer to make the score 69-65, and Jacobi Wright answered with a tough midrange in the face of the defense.
After some back-and-forth points from Moore and Wright, the score stood 73-68 in favor of the Gamecocks with 33.4 seconds left. GCU couldn’t score again, and South Carolina basketball was the Arizona Tipoff championship team with a 75-68 victory.
The Gamecocks will be off until next Tuesday when Notre Dame comes to Columbia as part of the ACC/SEC Challenge.