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November 16, 2008Winthrop's upset bid disappeared in a scorching flash of nylon.
South Carolina, spurred by a dazzling array of 3-point shooting in the second half, turned an eight-point lead into 26 in one four-minute stretch and coasted to an 86-63 win over the Eagles on Sunday. The Gamecocks passed their first big test of the new season against a probable NCAA tournament-bound team, and realized how important one stretch of red-hot basketball could be.
USC was only 31-of-71 for the game (43.7 percent). But during the stretch where they belted Winthrop in the mouth, the Gamecocks were 9-of-12, including 7-of-8 from the 3-point line.
"I know there were a handful that weren't the kind of 3s we don't want to be taking," coach Darrin Horn said. "(The 3s during the run) were really all high quality 3s."
USC (2-0) was working a 36-24 halftime lead but Winthrop (1-1) began cutting into it. The Eagles were down 39-31 after Cameron Stanley turned Evka Baniulis' turnover into a bucket and there were still over 17 minutes to play.
Baniulis aced two free throws on the other end to prime the fire and Zam Fredrick ignited it. The senior, who picked up two quick fouls and was ineffective in the first half, took a pass from Dominique Archie and shot from the left wing.
Fredrick kept the hot hand, nailing two more from long range sandwiched around a Winthrop miss and the lead was suddenly 19. Mike Holmes cleaned up a missed Fredrick 3 to make it 52-33 and after Fredrick airballed his next attempt, Devan Downey took over.
The preseason first-team All-SEC pick got a pass from Baniulis and continued the carnage, drilling his own 3-pointer. Downey got the ball on the next two possessions and repeated each time, his last one making it 61-35 and prompting the guard to leap about the court, screaming and thrashing his chest.
Baniulis fed Branden Conrad after a hasty Winthrop timeout but the Gamecocks weren't cooled down yet. Conrad promptly buried another 3 and it was 64-38.
There were 12 minutes left. It might as well have been 12 seconds.
The game was a wash, especially after Baniulis yanked a rebound, threw to a streaking Downey and Downey flipped inside to Archie. Archie caught it in stride and threw down a vicious one-handed tomahawk dunk while being fouled.
"It was over then," Archie said.
The Eagles trailed by 29, a spot they'd be in often for the duration, but made a small run to cut it to 19. USC responded by making three of its last four shots from the field and finished a 2-0 weekend.
"One of those days where we just showed a little bit of what we can do," said Downey, who finished with a game-high 21 points. "We decided we were going to pick it up defensively. Mike and Nique had monster games on the glass."
He had that right. USC yanked 48 rebounds, including a dizzying 23 offensively, and Archie (12 points, 10 rebounds) and Holmes (14 and 13) each posted double-doubles.
The Gamecocks were everywhere, forcing 22 turnovers, including 12 steals. The 48 boards were the most Winthrop's given up in the past three seasons and it was only the fourth time in the same span that the Eagles gave up 80 or more points.
"We just got manhandled," sighed Eagles coach Randy Peele. "We didn't really knock them in the mouth, and that's what we needed to do."
There was plenty of it on USC's end, the Gamecocks taking advantage of a frigid Winthrop early shooting performance and turning it into a 19-0 lead at the game's outset. The Eagles crept back into it when the Gamecocks were a horrid 6-of-24 from the floor for the last 12 minutes of the first half, but the 3-point streak and a return to defense shot the Gamecocks back into the win column.
"We thought rebounding would be a key to the game," Horn said. "Our guys did a terrific job on the offensive glass."
"We just want to win," said Archie, who also had four steals and two blocks. "We know that we play harder and that we work harder than any team in the country.
"When a ball goes up, that's our ball."