South Carolina grabbed 10 offensive rebounds in the first half and was able to only score eight second-chance points en route to shooting 25 percent from the floor. The team finished the game with 15 second-chance points on 16 offensive boards.
“I don’t know that that you’re going to hold a team this talented, and at the pace they play at, and think you’re going to keep them in the low 60s or 50s,” South Carolina coach Darrin Horn said. “They obviously got a few more than we wanted them to tonight.”
The Gamecocks were led by Damien Leonard’s 15 points on 5 of 8 shooting — one shy of the freshman’s season high.
“It was like every other game,” Leonard said, “but it’s league play, and every game is important.
“It felt pretty good, but it would’ve been better if we won. We need to build on the stuff we need to improve on.”
Of Leonard’s 15 points, 12 came in the second half, including back-to-back 3s late in the game.
“I thought Damien took some good (shots) in the second half,” Horn said. “You talk about a freshman coming in on this stage the way that he did. That’s really positive for the future of our program.”
Aside from Leonard, three other South Carolina players scored in double digits — Malik Cooke (11), Anthony Gill (10) and Damontre Harris (10). Gill also led the team in rebounds with seven.
“We scored 46 points against the best defensive team in the country in the second half. So, I saw some really positive things from some individuals.”
Unfortunately, for the Gamecocks, they trailed 34-18 at half, with Kentucky ending the half on a 15-3 run.
“I don’t know that (we took) bad shots, but they may have been bad shots for the time,” Horn said of the way the first half ended. “We were just trying to finish the first half. Again, a couple of them were probably pretty open looks.
“The challenge is, again, understanding that in that situation, we’re trying to finish the half strong. It is better to drive the basketball then to pull and take a 3. Those are things that our team needs to grow and that are important to us to finish things out against a team of this caliber.”
Bruce Ellington struggled from the floor (3-of-13, 1-of-8 from 3), and he was credited with a lot of those rushed shots at the end of the half where he finished 0-of-7 and 0-of-5 from 3.
“Just like coach said, a lot of (my shots) were rushed shots,“ Ellington said. “So, I just got to get back in the gym and keep working.”
This was Ellington’s second game back since the Capital One Bowl with the football team last week and his ninth game with the South Carolina basketball team (8-7, 0-1). The transition hasn’t been easy.
“I had to get back in the gym,” he said. “It’s a little tough running on the football grass verse running on the court.”
Ellington finished just 3-of-13 from the field and 1-of-8 from 3, but he had four assists and no turnovers.
“We have a lot of guys on our team that can score,” Ellington said. “So, we have to keep sharing the ball and moving the ball.
“We just have to keep playing for each other and have to keep going out there and keep winning.”
One key for Kentucky was Marquis Teague’s ability to break the South Carolina press and set his teammates up for easy baskets.
“Ultimately, I think he’s a terrific player,” Horn said of Teague. “He is a guy that can get the ball to where he wants it to go.”
“My teammates were in the right spots, where they were supposed to be,” Teague said. “It just made it a lot easier for me to break the press.”
Kentucky had been struggling with teams pressuring them, so it was something they focused on in practice because they knew the Gamecocks would turn up the pressure.
“We prepared for it a lot,” Teague said. “Coach (John Calipari) got us ready and where to be and what to do, and we did it, and we were fine.”
One bright spot for South Carolina was Damontre Harris. Harris was efficient from the field going 4 of 5 and blocking Anthony Davis’ shot twice.
“(Harris) blocked some of my shots,” said Davis, who finished with 12 points, 10 rebounds and seven blocks. “It was kind of hard to score going into the paint if no one was on him.”
Despite being outrebounded by South Carolina 32-30, Kentucky was able to get buckets in the paint, where it had an advantage of 48 to 26. The Wildcats (15-1, 1-0) also outscored the Gamecocks 12-0 in fast break-points.
Kentucky ended the game shooting 59.2 percent from the field, while South Carolina shot just 39.1 percent.
South Carolina’s leading scorer Malik Cooke struggled from the field going 5 of 14, but he still is the leader of the team. He’s been the motivation for the team all season.
“Our leader is Cooke,” Ellington said. “He has that winning attitude. He’s been bringing it ever since I left. So, I think our team has it, we just have to go out there and just do it.”
The Gamecocks plan to build on their second-half performance, knowing that’s the way they want to play.
“Now, we know can score on anybody and play with anybody,” Leonard said, “and we’ll build on this.”