Darrin Horn's USC Gamecocks opened the season with an impressive 88-50 win over Alabama A&M. Led by All-Conference Point Guard, Devan Downey, the Gamecocks started the game in a blaze, scoring the first 12 points and quickly continued building a huge lead that was ignited by the early perfect shooting of Downey who scored on his first five shots, including three 3-pointers. Downey finished the game with 23 points, 4 assists, 2 rebounds and 2 steals. The team applied extended pressure early to create problems for the Bulldogs, coached by Van Pettaway. The athletic but out-manned Alabama A&M squad could not muster any real challenge for the Gamecocks after an 8-0 run that made the score respectable for a minute early in the first half.
So what were the concerns in this ball game? Initially it would be the 8 turnovers from the point guard position, poor shot selection, settling for perimeter shots too often when penetration options and post plays were obviously available. The result, 7-24 (29.2%) from 3-point range. While the four returning starters combined for 65 points with neither player on the floor for more than 23 minutes, the combined bench offered only 23 points with significant minutes played. Too many lazy or out of position fouls against an out-manned squad as a result of poor rotations or effort, even though this may have been a result of an early 20-point lead and the aggressive defensive scheme initially. With the South Carolina length, the Cocks allowed 16 offensive rebounds, another product of fundamental breakdowns and lack of effort at times boxing out under the glass. After a scorching 16-18 at the charity stripe, the Cocks could only find 50% of its' second half free throws on 7-14 shooting, an Achilles heel of the USC squad last season. Perimeter shooting could be a problem in the general rotation.
Johndre Jefferson, was very active and appears very comfortable without being the focal offensive option, as Jefferson used 4 offensive rebounds (7 total) to post 8 points and adding 3 blocks during his 18 minutes of play. Coach Horn has the luxury of playing 9 deep in his rotation this season, making it easier to keep primary players fresh, while allowing his intense defense and up-tempo style aggression to flow throughout the game. This rotation does not include shooting specialist Evaldas Baniulis and newcomer, Stephen Spinella, both whom will be needed to help stretch defenses attempting to collapse the lane to deny Downey penetration and negate some of the USC post length. Freshman sensation LaKeem Jackson, was scoreless on 0-6 shooting (0-4 from 3) and displayed early maturity avoiding frustration and continuing the little things that don't show up on stat sheets. His defense and aggressive play still posted 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks and a steal to go along with several uncharted ball deflections on defense. This defensive effort held the Bulldogs to 36% from the field and caused poor shot selection for the visiting opponents. The team defensive effort also held the visiting squad to only 22 second half points on 10-28 shooting.
While the season opener was not the most impressive victory, it was a display of what should evolve into a very promising and exciting season as this team will only get better based on the practice and development philosophy of the young Darrin Horn era. Even with the loss of shooting guard Zam Fredrick, USC appears to be a better ball club already.
Game 2 will be played tonight again at the Colonial Life Arena against a very athletic Georgia Southern ball club.