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December 16, 2008

Gamecocks steamroll Eagles

Hard to describe.

South Carolina massacred North Carolina Central 90-43 on Tuesday. The Gamecocks returned from an 11-day exam layoff, got past a sluggish 10 minutes to start the game and started compiling highlight clips in the first half.

But they were supposed to. It's not like the 0-12 Eagles were coming in as upset specials.

So how to describe a win where USC (7-1) did exactly what it was supposed to do?

A win. Just, a win.

"In a game like this, you take as many positives as you can, because of the nature of this game," coach Darrin Horn said.

Devan Downey scored a game-high 23 points to lead four Gamecocks in double figures and every USC player had at least two points. Austin Steed had a team-high 12 rebounds, Dominique Archie added another two-block game to his resume, USC had an assist on 20 of 30 field goals, Brandis Raley-Ross returned from a knee sprain and the Gamecocks forced a school-record 34 turnovers.

But it wasn't particularly sharp. USC lost the ball 17 times, took a lot of selfish shots and after the lead was safely in hand, began looking for more ESPN-worthy plays instead of fundamental basketball.

Still, no one could complain too loudly about a 47-point win. The game was set up to get USC back from exams without too much heartache and that was the result.

Getting crisper comes in the few days of practice before the next game.

"In a game like this, you just try to go out and don't worry about the opponent, just try to get better as a team," Downey said. "I feel like for the most part, especially in the second half, we just concentrated on getting better."

Downey began the rout by scoring 12 points in the first nine minutes, wiping out a short-lived NCCU lead. Then Mike Holmes took over, scoring all of his 14 points in a nine-minute burst to close the first half.

The game was clearly over so the rest of the Gamecocks took turns for the duration. Archie had 11 points with six boards, Zam Fredrick scored 18 and everybody else got into the act, turning the screws on defense and nabbing turnover after turnover.

Big win, but supposed to be a big win. Even the Eagles admitted that.

"You notice our schedule, we've played some awful good teams," NCCU coach Henry Dickerson said. "This is one of the better teams we've played."

"I thought early on in this game that we looked like we had been off for about 12 days, in the first half," Horn said. "Not as sharp defensively as we wanted to be. Just did a really poor job taking care of the basketball, which really stood out.

"I think in the second half, our energy was much better, our defensive intensity was at a higher level. We got that little run with our press to start the half, I think, got us going. Really played better in the second half."

Raley-Ross returned at the 14:45 mark of the first half, wearing an ear-splitting grin and receiving a warm round of applause. A starting guard who went down with a sprained left knee in USC's season-opener, Raley-Ross didn't seem to be favoring his knee any but only played 13 minutes because of early foul trouble.

He scored two points and was yanked at the end of the game for launching an ill-advised 3-pointer. Horn said Raley-Ross was physically fine and naturally rusty, but there was still no excuse for taking that kind of shot.

"Physically, he's ready to go, but it's obvious that his sharpness and his focus on the things that he needed to do ... had to take him out late because he took just an incredibly bad, horrible, selfish shot there at the end of the game, which we're not going to tolerate regardless of the score," Horn said. "So I don't think he was very good, but it was great to have him back, and I think he's going to get better, considering the injury that he had and the severity of it."

Raley-Ross returned, Mitchell Carter set career-highs with eight points in 16 minutes, Robert Wilder scored his first two points of the season and Holmes rocked the rim a few times with nasty dunks. USC began the second half with three straight steals and converted baskets and hounded the Eagles into an extremely poor night handling the ball -- at one point, NCCU had as many turnovers (26) as points.

"I don't know if that number's (34) indicative solely to us but I hope that we contributed to it some," Horn said kindly.

An easy win that was supposed to be an easy win. Nobody was angry but nobody was checking the Top 25 to see where USC was.

"We picked up the energy, and we pushed the lead," Fredrick said. "We keep moving the ball to the other guy."



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