COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - South Carolina coach Frank Martin was extremely disappointed with the way the Gamecocks ended the non-conference portion of the schedule. The second-year coach wondered how his young squad with seven freshmen was able to find a way to pull out a hard fought 82-75 victory over South Carolina State Friday night.
"We got totally outplayed and I was caught completely off-guard," Martin said. "The guys were great in practice the last couple of days but for whatever reason we did what we did today. We had no business winning. I think the only reason we won is because we had played well coming into this game and we felt we should win."
The Gamecocks have now won five of their last six games after opening the season 2-5. But they would not have held off the Bulldogs if it wasn't for the efforts of Brenton Williams and Ty Johnson. Williams scored 19 points to lead the way and Johnson chipped in with 17 but more importantly they were instrumental after the Bulldogs erased a 15-point first half deficit to tie the game at 60 on a Devin Joint dunk with seven minutes remaining.
The duo each scored five points during a 13-5 run that gave the Gamecocks a 73-65 lead with 3:28 remaining. South Carolina State (4-9) would not get closer than seven points the rest of the way as the Gamecocks made 14-of-17 free throws in the final ten minutes, including 12-of-15 after the score was tied.
"We have been in this situation before so put a fight up for this one," Johnson said. "We need to defend our home court and come out and play like we know we can play, help each other, talk and score and that's what we did."
South Carolina looked like it would cruise after jumping to a 44-33 halftime advantage. The Gamecocks took control with a 14-3 run over a six-minute span. Williams started the run with a 3-pointer and scored five points during the spurt. Johnson also connected on a 3-pointer as four players contributed during the run.
But the Bulldogs opened the second half on a 17-7 spurt to pull within one, 51-50, in the opening six minutes. They connected on 7-of-8 field goals to get back in it and had a chance to take its first lead but a 3-pointer by Koran Wright rimmed out.
They eventually tied it on the Joint dunk but the Gamecocks kept their composure to earn the victory.
"If we complete against an SEC opponent like we did and have an opportunity to win the game, it should tell our guys that if we stay together and keep working, we should be very competitive when we get to MEAC play," South Carolina coach Murray Garvin said.
Notice had 13 points and eight assists and Demetrius Henry recorded his first career double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds for the Gamecocks.
South Carolina (7-6) will travel to Florida to open SEC play on Wednesday, January 8.
Matthew Hezekiah scored 18 points to lead South Carolina State. Theron Stephens added 15 and Daryll Palmer chipped in 12 points for the Bulldogs.
Even though Martin was discouraged by the effort of his team, he was able to crack jokes in the post-game press conference.
"I will never wear this suit for a game again," Martin deadpanned. "I've worn it twice and we've played like third graders both times."
South Carolina will play the rest of the season without senior Bruce Ellington. The Moncks Corner, S.C. native doubled as a wide receiver on the football team and announced his attentions to enter the 2014 NFL Draft. Ellington played in 80 basketball games during his career, including three games this season. He averaged 11.3 points per game, 3.0 assists and 2.7 rebounds over his career.
South Carolina has picked the right time to play its best basketball of the season…