COLUMBIA, S.C. – In a game that featured a total of seven lead changes and six ties, visiting USC Upstate dropped a six-point decision (72-66) at South Carolina Saturday afternoon at the Colonial Life Arena.
South Carolina (7-6) took an 11-point lead (42-31), when Malik Cooke opened the second half with a jumper just inside the arc.
Upstate (8-6) used an 11-1 run over a span of 4:07 to cut the deficit to just two with 14:23 to play. Ty Greene (Knoxville, Tenn.) started the run with a triple and Torrey Craig's (Great Falls, S.C.) three-pointer cut the deficit to two. Craig also hit a pair of free throws during the Spartan surge, while Adrian Rodgers (Alpharetta, Ga.) hit a jumper and sank one free throw.
After the Gamecocks pushed the lead back to four points, 46-42, on RJ Slawson's jumper in the paint, the Spartans used a 5-0 spurt to take a 47-46 lead, their first lead since the 14:09 mark on the first half (12-11). Another trey by Craig cut the deficit to one and Ricardo Glenn's (Augusta, Ga.) jumper from the right side of the paint gave the Spartans a one-point lead.
With the game tied at 52 with 9:30 remaining, South Carolina used a 10-3 run to take a 62-55 lead with 5:08 to play.
Trailing 66-59, Upstate used a quick 6-0 run to cut the South Carolina to just one. Craig, again, sank another three-pointer, while Jodd Maxey (Statham, Ga.) picked the pocket of RJ Slawson and converted on the fast break lay-up. Maxey was fouled on the play and his free throw with 2:46 to play trimmed the Gamecock lead to 66-65.
Glenn hit one of two free throws with 44 seconds remaining, trimming the deficit to two points (68-66). Anthony Gill missed a jumper in the lane, but Damontre Harris' tip-in with 25 seconds to play, proved to be the final blow by South Carolina. The Gamecocks sank two free throws in the final 19 seconds to set the final tally at 72-66.
"I don't think we played but 20 minutes today," said Upstate head coach Eddie Payne. "I felt that we were lethargic defensively as well allowed them to run their plays without a lot of resistance. We did a better job in the second half as we were able to force turnovers, lower their shooting percentage from 60% to 40% and we just played better because we gave more of an effort on the defensive end. I have to give South Carolina credit, I felt they played pretty well and hopefully this helps them, because I feel that we made them play well. We didn't necessarily lose the game today, but South Carolina won the game."
Craig, who had just four points at intermission, paced the Spartans with 20 points. Greene also reached double-figures with 11. Maxey and Glenn also had solid outings for the Spartans. Maxey finished with nine points, seven rebounds and four steals, while Glenn posted seven points and eight rebounds.
"This year we have more defensive pressure, but we were unable to pick up the win," Craig stated. "Our effort wasn't there in the first half today, we came out sluggish as we didn't hustle for loose balls and they beat us on the glass. Those lapses on defense are what cost us at the end of the game."
Malik Cooke was one of three Gamecocks to reach double-figures on Saturday. Cooke finished with 24 points and 10 rebounds, with Brenton Williams and RJ Slawson pitching in 11 and 10, respectively.
"We came into the game knowing they were going to pressure and get after us," said South Carolina head coach Darrin Horn. "They have had a lot of success doing that and are very good at it. Defensively, we thought coming into the game (Ty) Greene with his ability to shoot and (Torrey) Craig with his ability to score were really dangerous."
As a team, South Carolina hit 22-of-32 free throws (68.8%), while Upstate hit just eight of its 15 attempts (53.3%).
After a put-back slam by Maxey gave the Spartans a 12-11 lead with 14:09 to play in the first half, the Gamecocks used a 15-5 run to take a 26-16 lead with 7:37 remaining.
"We wanted to defend the three, know where those guys were at all times and do the job on the glass because they were the best offensive rebounding team we've played statistically coming into the game," Horn added. "We did all of that in the first half, but in the second half in the stretch they came back, we didn't do that. We turned the ball over which led to easy baskets for them. We let Greene get loose for a 3. We let Craig get loose for a 3, which got him going; he's a high-volume scorer that when he's feeling it, he's capable of making several in a row."
Upstate got as close as seven in the final minutes of the half, before South Carolina took a nine-point lead into the locker room at intermission.
The Spartans will finally wrap-up their seven-game road swing Wednesday night. Upstate will make the trip to Johnson City, Tenn., for a 7 p.m. A-Sun match-up at ETSU.