South Carolina defeated Vermont 68-50 Thursday night at Colonial Life Arena to stay undefeated this season. PJ Dozier scored a career-high 21 points in the victory.
Dozier's career night paced a balanced effort by the Gamecocks. Four players scored in double figures and four players had at least five rebounds, but the newly-ranked Gamecocks struggled to assert themselves.
South Carolina had a sluggish start to the game. Ball movement was not crisp, and despite Vermont missing six consecutive shots, South Carolina led just 13-11 after eight minutes and 24-21 with five minutes left in the first half.
"They're (Vermont) good and they're very physical," USC head coach Frank Martin said. "I had a feeling that because of the success the last couple of games against name teams we wouldn't be as clean as we needed to be."
That was when Dozier and fellow sophomore Chris Silva took over. Silva scored seven straight points on a variety of athletic shots in the paint. Dozier drilled a three from the top of the key and then made a tough layup. He missed his next layup attempt, but Silva cleaned up the miss and converted another three-point play. Vermont managed just one basket and a pair of free throws during the same span, and the 15-4 run gave South Carolina a 39-25 lead.
The Gamecocks took a 43-32 lead into halftime, but it was a sloppy lead. They had a 26-8 lead in points in the paint, but a slim 14-13 edge on the glass. Martin let his displeasure be known during the break.
"I challenged them at halftime, I was extremely upset," Martin said. "I didn't think our mindset was good today."
South Carolina responded to the tongue-lashing. Maik Kotsar scored the first two baskets of the second half, and then Sindarius Thornwell threw an alley-oop to Dozier. Sensing the game slipping away, Vermont called a timeout down 49-32. But Kotsar made two more basket, sandwiched around a Vermont free throw. Dozier added another three to make it a 13-1 run and put South Carolina comfortably ahead.
"I'm real proud of Maik Kotsar," Martin said. "It's the first time all year I'm not very nice on the sideline, not very nice in the locker room, and Maik didn't pout."
Kotsar finished with 14, Silva had 12, and Thornwell had 11, but Dozier stole the show. He scored from all over the court, mixing layups and three-point bombs.
"I'm just playing within the offense," Dozier said. "Coach has been on me about being aggressive, and I'm trying to keep an aggressive mindset."
Martin said the biggest change from his freshman season is how hard Dozier plays. Last year Dozier struggled with foul trouble as he committed lazy reach-in fouls. this season he is playing harder on defense, which results in fewer fouls, which means more court time and a chance to find his shot on offense.
"At the end of the day he's a good player who's learned how to play hard," Martin said.
Notes: Thornwell's 11 points was his lowest output of the season, but he tied his career-high with nine assists. ... Anthony Lamb led the Catamounts with 12 points but fouled out in 23 minutes. ... South Carolina finished with advantages of 46-18 in points in the paint and 36-31 on the glass. ... The Gamecocks return to the court Sunday afternoon against Florida International for a 2 p.m. contest at Colonial Life Arena.