South Carolina Basketball: Gamecocks survive physical road test to beat ECU, move to 8-1

South Carolina basketball coach Lamont Paris. Mandatory Credit: Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports
South Carolina basketball coach Lamont Paris. Mandatory Credit: Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports /
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South Carolina basketball lost their first game of the season earlier this week in a heartbreaker to the rival Clemson Tigers. Now 7-1, the Gamecocks had another tough test on Saturday as they traveled to Greenville, North Carolina to take on the East Carolina Pirates in a full venue at Williams Arena.

The starting lineup stayed the same for the Gamecocks despite the tweaked ankle Stephen Clark suffered against Clemson. Collin Murray-Boyles (mono) and Morris Ugusuk (ankle) were active, as well. Before the game, East Carolina cleverly played a pre-recorded Cameo video of Gamecock quarterback Spencer Rattler wishing the Pirates luck.

After losing the tip, the Gamecocks blocked two of the first three shot attempts from the Pirates (BJ Mack and Stephen Clark), and a BJ Mack layup was the only make for either team through 7 shots.

Aggressive forward Ezra Ausar picked up his 2nd foul early for ECU, and a Myles Stute long ball put the Gamecocks up 7-2. A few minutes later, South Carolina native RJ Felton made a reverse layup, and at the first media timeout, the score stood 11-7 in favor of USC.

An egregiously wrong offensive-goaltending-turned-out-of-bounds call (both calls would have been wrong) cost Myles Stute an easy bucket, and the Gamecocks went without a point over 3 minutes until Jacobi Wright found Zach Davis for an open 3-pointer. Ta’Lon Cooper hit one a couple of possessions later, and the Gamecock lead was 17-12 around the 11:00 mark.

Two more shots behind the arc from Cooper and Morris Ugusuk pushed the lead to 23-12, but the Pirates ended their 3 1/2-minute scoring drought with a free throw, cutting the deficit to 10 points with 8:30 left in the half.

ECU went over 5 minutes without making a shot from the field, but a couple of trips to the free throw line kept the scoring margin at 10 before Bobby Pettiford ended the run with a stepback 3-pointer from the top of the key, knocking the point differential down to 7.

An ugly stretch of Carolina offense saw the Gamecocks shoot 1-8 from the field, allowing ECU to bring the score to 26-24. Myles Stute and BJ Mack then went on a quick 9-4 run to end the half, putting the visiting South Carolina basketball team a 35-28 lead heading into the break.

After halftime, Ezra Ausar came back in for East Carolina and immediately had a big and-one dunk, but the confident Myles Stute answered with a fallaway 3-pointer from the corner, his third of the game.

The lead shrunk after an RJ Felton midrange jumper and an Ezra Ausar free throw, and all of a sudden, USC held just a 38-36 lead.

A few moments later, a Pirate steal and run out led to a tie score when Bobby Pettiford made a fast break bucket. Just the second tie of the game (0-0 was the other) came about as Carolina started the 2nd half 1-5, while ECU shot 4-6.

Another miss from the Gamecocks led to ECU taking a brief lead on an Ausar make, but Zach Davis answered to tie things up again. An ugly back-and-forth ensued as both teams went 4 minutes without making a shot away from the free throw line.

A Pettiford 3-pointer gave ECU a 45-42 lead, and the Gamecocks were in a massive funk. With more turnovers than made shots nearing the halfway point of the half, USC had their second 3-minute scoreless stretch of the 2nd period before Myles Stute’s 14th and 15th points fell at the free throw line.

A Zach Davis dunk gave the lead back to Lamont Paris’ team, and then the two teams went back and forth as Meechie Johnson started to get going. 4 free throws and a tough runner fell for #5, and then Morris Ugusuk went down with an injury that looked like it could have been a re-aggravation of his ankle injury.

The Gamecocks held the Pirates without a field goal for almost 5 minutes, but Carolina couldn’t take advantage as they missed three shots and two front-ends of 1-and-1 situations. The USC field goal drought extended to 4 minutes (they also added another missed free throw), and ECU took a 54-51 lead.

A quick Meechie Johnson takeover allowed South Carolina basketball to tie the game 56-56 heading into the under-4 media timeout as the redshirt junior made a tough driving layup and a 3-pointer, both against Ezra Ausar.

After the timeout, Ausar got bailed out by the referee and was awarded two free throws for barrelling into Stephen Clark. The foul was Clark’s 4th (tied with BJ Mack for the team lead), and the two makes gave ECU the lead again.

The Meechie Johnson show continued as he scored again to retake the lead. A BJ Mack dropped pass cost Johnson a turnover and allowed East Carolina to overtake Carolina again, but he redeemed himself with a big 3-point make to go up 62-60 with 1:22 remaining in the game.

After a couple of possessions, the Gamecocks led 63-62 with 31 seconds remaining, but ECU had the ball. Ezra Ausar’s 5th turnover of the game came at an inopportune time for the Pirates as the ball belonged to South Carolina basketball with 20 seconds left.

After an ECU foul, Ta’Lon Cooper made just 1 of 2, putting Carolina up 64-62. Bobby Pettiford took a wild layup attempt that might have been blocked by Stephen Clark, and Cooper snagged the rebound. After being fouled again, Cooper sank both free throw attempts, icing the game. Zach Davis pushed the Gamecocks across the point spread line with a steal and two more free throws, giving USC a hard-fought 6-point victory on the road.

533. 62. 933. Final. 68