South Carolina basketball fans felt something different in the air on Tuesday.
The Gamecocks sold out Colonial Life Arena, a blackout was in play, and Carolina was ready. The mighty Kentucky Wildcats came into Columbia ranked #6 in the country, but they will be ranked so high when the next batch of rankings comes out next week after USC dominated Big Blue for the largest win over a top-10 opponent in program history.
The first half was more of a defensive slog as both teams forced turnovers, blocked shots, and played at a frenetic pace. The Gamecocks are used to ugly basketball, though, and they came out of it with an 8-point lead after a Zach Davis 3-ball right before the buzzer. Ta'Lon Cooper and Jacobi Wright had 17 of the team's 33 points, and Josh Gray and Collin Murray-Boyles seemed to be everywhere.
The game style changed drastically in the 2nd half as both teams scored more frequently and quieted the turnovers. However, the result was the same as South Carolina won the final 20 minutes by 9 points even with the offensive flow that, theoretically, should have favored the Wildcats.
For the game, Ta'Lon Cooper led all scorers with 20 points, and he made some really difficult shots along the way to get to that total. Meechie Johnson and Jacobi Wright each had 14, and Wright made his first four 3-pointers of the game. Josh Gray and Collin Murray-Boyles were forces inside, combining for 15 rebounds and 15 points on just 11 shots. CMB also added 3 blocks and 2 steals to go with an impressive 5 assists.
Carolina assisted on 20 of their 29 makes (compared to 7 of 25 for Kentucky), and Lamont Paris' squad had just two turnovers in the 2nd half (one coming in garbage time).
After smacking Arkansas in Bud Walton Arena and embarrassing John Calipari's Wildcats in back-to-back games, South Carolina basketball has announced that they are here to stay.