A South Carolina team with seven freshmen and eight total newcomers shook off any opening-game jitters Saturday, downing Longwood 82-44 at Colonial Life Arena behind a suffocating defensive effort.
The new-look Gamecocks got off to a 18-4 start in the first 9 minutes against the Lancers and never looked back, frustrating Longwood to a 22.8 percent shooting day -- the lowest percentage in the history of Colonial Life Arena -- to secure South Carolina's 13th-straight season-opening victory.
South Carolina continued to pile onto the 18-4 lead, maintaining at least a seven-point margin the entire game and running away with the game in the second half.
South Carolina dominated in almost every aspect of the game Saturday, knocking down 62.5 percent of their second-half field goal attempts, outrebounding the Lancers 50-27 and getting double-digit scoring performances from Sindarius Thornwell (14), Brenton Williams (14), Michael Carrera (12) and Tyrone Johnson (18) -- who was granted an NCAA waiver Friday allowing him to play right away this season. But head coach Frank Martin was more impressed with his team's defense than anything else.
"We didn't outscore them," Martin said. "We defended them, and there's a difference there - attention to detail."
Martin said the defense got "a little lackadaisical in the second half," but was impressed with it otherwise. The Gamecocks hounded the Lancers all over the floor, recording five steals, blocking eight shots and pressuring them into commit 13 turnovers.
"I'm happy with our team's defense," Martin said. "We gave up some cheap baskets coming down the stretch there, which I don't even want to think about right now - it's a shame. We've been real hard on our guys to understand defensive concepts, to understand the sense of urgency you have to play with, and that's why I'm so proud right now."
South Carolina got off to a relatively slow first half offensively, but led 37-15 at halftime. The Gamecocks picked up the pace after halftime, piling on 45 points to flush any comeback hopes out of Longwood's reach. Leading that charge was freshman guard Sindarius Thornwell, who rebounded from an 0-for-3 first-half shooting performance to score all 14 of his points in the second half.
Martin said Thornwell knew he didn't play very well in pre-game warmups, and that he told the freshman during a timeout just before halftime that he hadn't come ready to play.
"That's it; that's all we said," Martin said. "And he responded like good players respond. Good players, they know when they don't play well.
"And when they hear that their coaches -- or their teacher, their parent, their uncle, whoever -- is challenging them, they don't roll their eyes, they don't go cry. They stand up and they take ownership, and that's what they did. And for him being so young, it shows the kind of kid that he is."
Martin said with Johnson's new eligibility to play during the beginning of the season, he isn't worried about his backcourt, even while the team awaits the return of senior guard Bruce Ellington when football season ends. Martin said Johnson, who added two rebounds and two assists to his 6-of-9 shooting day, helps take pressure off of his freshman guards, namely Thornwell and Duane Notice.
"They're young. They're good players that we believe in, but they're young," Martin said. "And that's hard to put young kids in those kinds of moments on their own. Now with Ty, now Ty's going to have to carry the burden. And it doesn't mean Duane or Sindarius won't have to, but they can kind of ease their way into it rather than have that burden on their shoulders."
"Ty's a real good player," Martin said. "He's got his moments. He drives me nuts, but he drives me nuts for the right reasons because he's got a mind for the game."
Other players who performed well were Michael Carrera, who finished with 12 points and nine rebounds, and Mindaugas Kacinas, who started at forward and led the team with 14 rebounds.
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