Dominique Archie really wanted to get home for Christmas.
South Carolina's junior forward scored 17 first-half points to give the Gamecocks a comfortable lead on Tuesday and Mike Holmes and Devan Downey finished what Archie started, propelling USC to a 75-56 win over Presbyterian and into the holiday break. The Gamecocks improved to 9-1 and a perfect 8-0 at Colonial Life Arena, avoiding any lumps of coal that might have found their way into the stockings on the mantel.
It wasn't perfect -- the Blue Hose (5-7) never let the Gamecocks get comfortable and the problems of the last game (shoddy rebounding, lazy passing) still crept into coach Darrin Horn's mind. Yet, USC had its best shooting game of the season (58.2 percent) and took another step in getting out of the give-the-ball-to-Downey rut.
"I just wanted to take care of business," Archie said, twirling a small gift bag.
Archie streaked to his 17 early but only got two after halftime, depriving him of matching his career-high (21). The lapse kept the Blue Hose close, the lead dropping to 11 with 9:35 to play, but Archie gladly gave up the ball when he was double-teamed, letting Downey do what Downey does.
The Gamecocks' point guard, who labeled himself a poor leader during USC's last game, found his spot to once again take over. He scored nine points in a 101-second span, pushing the lead back to 18.
"That's exactly what I wanted to do," said Downey, who ended with 13 points. "I had to lead my team. That's just what a leader does -- pick up his team when they're struggling."
Throughout, Holmes was playing his second straight dominant game, keyed by PC's small defenders and his own range. He scored 14 of his 19 points in the second half, going in for a one-handed dunk off a feed from Downey but also raining 7- to 10-footers over the Hose.
Zam Fredrick finished with 10 points and Brandis Raley-Ross had eight and eight rebounds, his game continuing to improve every minute he's on the floor. The Gamecocks avoided the sluggish start that had Horn in a tizzy against The Citadel and let PC know early that they weren't going to be considered for an upset special.
"Always good to head into Christmas with a victory," Horn said. "Lot of positives to take from the game tonight."
Archie began the game by capturing a not-high-enough pass and swooping in for a coast-to-coast layup. Then the Gamecocks forced a jumpball and Downey twisted for a paint-based score.
Archie handled most of the scoring in the first half, getting so pumped at one point that he got the ball at the top of the key, took one step and rose over his defender, standing flat-footed in the lane with arms up. Archie threw it down one-handed with less than a minute to play, providing an immediate jolt.
PC came out of the locker room shooting, but looming foul trouble on center Al'Lonzo Coleman handcuffed what the Hose could do. They kept launching from long range but only hit five of 19 attempts, while the Gamecocks sat back and took advantage.
"They were doubling down on me so I just gave the ball back to the other guys," Archie said. "They tried to deny me so I let them do it."
USC stumbled for a minute, then Downey found himself open on the corner. Swish.
Next possession, 3-pointer from the top of the key. Net.
Next, one of those spinning moves he's patented through his two years in Columbia, followed by another jumper.
Comfortably ahead once more, Downey fed Holmes for a jam and two back-to-the-basket turnarounds. Raley-Ross flipped in four quick points and USC strutted to the finish line.
The Gamecocks only get a three-day break -- they're due back late Friday. Still, after an August trip to Europe, then a brutal fall conditioning session, then preseason practice and 10 games worth of these-really-count, even three days looked like an extended vacation.
Holmes and center Mitchell Carter were celebrating their birthdays on Tuesday. Horn turns 36 on Wednesday. The others could be satisfied with a solid start to the season and a few days off.
"As of right this moment, not very," Horn said, addressing his concerns for his next two opponents -- No. 22 Clemson and No. 21 Baylor. "We're all really concerned about just getting a break. We've had a long summer, long preseason ... these guys have worked really hard and we want to get away.
"But obviously, we're going to be tested. After Christmas. There's no question about that. We'll get ready for it when we come back and let's see how we respond."