COLUMBIA — With South Carolina coming off a 10-day exam break, coach Frank Martin was looking for a crisp effort against Appalachian State on Wednesday night. Instead, he found his team in a one-possession game with less than 20 seconds remaining.
But the Gamecocks made enough plays at the end to pull out a 74-69 victory over the Mountaineers. Eric Smith and LaShay Page combined to make three free throws in the final 20 seconds to allow South Carolina to hang on for its second straight victory.
Martin wasn’t totally pleased with the effort but was happy to get the win.
“You have to be in those moments sooner or later,” Martin said of the closing seconds. “When you play hard games against hard teams, you’re begging to be in those moments. You have a chance to win and you have to understand how to handle it. We didn’t handle it real well, and that’s all right, but we got the win and that is what is important.”
Lakeem Jackson scored a season-high 16 points to lead the way. He and fellow senior Page scored nine of the final 16 points for the Gamecocks (7-3), beginning with seven to start a 9-0 run that broke open a tight game.
Page, who was scoreless until that point, began the run with a three-point play and two free throws to give South Carolina a 63-58 lead with 4:19 left. Jackson and Mindaugas Kacinas added layups to end the run.
Page scored seven points in the final 4:42. He missed the last game with an illness and had scored only five points in the previous two games, losses to St. John’s and Clemson. His three-point play was a big moment, according to Martin.
“LaShay hasn’t made a shot in like a month, but he goes out there and converts a three-point play,’ Martin said. “That was nice to see.”
Jackson added seven rebounds in one of his better all-around efforts this season.
“It was more coming out getting the win and helping my team,” Jackson said of the late push. “I wanted to be aggressive and do all the things right that I’ve been doing in practice.”
Tevin Baskin, Mike Neal and Jay Canty each scored 16 points to lead the Mountaineers (2-8).
Appalachian State kept chipping away and had a chance to tie but Nathan Healy missed a 3-pointer that could have forced overtime. Page’s two free throws with 4 seconds remaining made it a two-possession game.
The Mountaineers (2-8) trailed by as many as 11 points in the first half but used a 15-5 run to take their first lead, 35-34, on a fast-break basket by Canty with 28 seconds remaining. Bruce Ellington gave South Carolina a 37-35 lead at the half on his 3-pointer with 7 seconds remaining.
Kacinas, who made his first career start, recorded his first career double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds. Brenton Williams chipped in with 11 points and Eric Smith added a career-high nine assists.