South Carolina started with an 8-2 run Tuesday night at Colonial Life Arena, but quickly fell victim to Manhattan's full-court press and defensive intensity in its 86-68 loss to the Jaspers.
Dealing with double teams and hands in their faces on nearly every possession, the Gamecocks fell apart on offense, struggling to run plays and allowing Manhattan to rack up nine blocks and 11 steals.
"Their pressure made us play fast," said point guard Tyrone Johnson after the game. "Just made us play not our way, but play their way. The first couple minutes we came out strong, doing what we do, but they put the pressure on and, just as a team, we shut down and let them get to us. They created turnovers, and they wanted it more."
The Jaspers controlled the pace of the game nearly from start to finish, with their intensity on defense matched only by their efficiency on offense and at the free throw line.
"They played harder than us," said freshman guard Sindarius Thornwell. "We came out playing hard, but when they hit us, we lost energy. We've got to be able to take the hits and keep playing with the energy we've been playing with since the beginning."
Head coach Frank Martin said he wasn't surprised with the loss after a week of practice where the team couldn't sustain focus, discipline or effort. Martin said South Carolina's offensive struggles have resulted from youth, and particularly from his young players not playing to their potential against tougher competition.
"They're doing it when it's easy - that means when the other team doesn't provide resistance" Martin said. "When it's hard, we're not doing it, and that's part of youth. And that's where us as coaches have got to do a better job."
Martin said against better teams, his players are more prone to breaking off plays and losing focus, but that it's a long season and he will stay patient with them.
"If you want to be a good team, you have to execute your offense," Martin said. "You've got to have five guys on the floor that understand their responsibility and all do it to the best of their abilities, and we're still trying to figure that out."
DAYS OFF. Martin said South Carolina's 11-day break following the Oklahoma State game hurt the Gamecocks Tuesday night.
"It wasn't a very good idea to have so many days off between games," Martin said to begin his postgame presser. "The repetitive practice didn't help us and probably got us out of whack a little bit."
POSTGAME SCUFFLE. The postgame handshake was less than friendly, with both sides - particularly Michael Carrera and Manhattan's Michael Alvarado - shoving before police and coaches broke it up. Martin said he didn't see what happened, but that he would find out soon, all but suggesting discipline would follow.
STAR POWER. Pacing Manhattan on the scoreboard were Michael Alvarado and George Beamon, two guards who combined for 46 of the Jaspers' 86 points. Beamon was hyper-efficient, scoring 26 points on 13 field goals and seven made free throws.
STRUGGLING FROM THE LINE. South Carolina shot just 57.9 percent from the free-throw line, including a 9-of-19 performance from the charity stripe in the first half, while the Jaspers buried 34 of their 39 free-throw attempts.
ALLEY-NOPE. South Carolina attempted four alley-oop dunks against Manhattan, missing all of them. The first attempt ended with Mindaugas Kacinas catching the pass and feebly laying it in the basket, but the Gamecocks couldn't turn the final three passes into points. On the last - the only one attempted in the second half - Bruce Ellington lofted a perfect pass to within inches of the rim, but Laimonas Chatkevicius botched the dunk in spectacular fashion, sending the ball about a dozen feet above the rim and into Manhattan's possession.
HOMETOWN HEROES VS. ROAD WARRIORS. South Carolina was undefeated at home entering the game, while Manhattan remained undefeated away from Draddy Gymnasium. The Jaspers lead the nation with seven road victories.
SUPPORTING CAST. Several football players came over to Colonial Life Arena after bowl practice to watch the game, including Elliott Fry, Jimmy Legree and Sharrod Golightly. Each of them stayed until the end, unlike many other students.
UP NEXT. South Carolina plays host to USC Upstate Thursday at 4 p.m. at Colonial Life Arena. The game will be televised on Fox Sports Carolinas/SportSouth.