COLUMBIA - South Carolina has picked the right time to play its best basketball of the season.
After winning just twice in the first seven games, the Gamecocks (6-6) won for the fourth time in the last five with a 92-65 victory over Marshall on Monday night.
Before South Carolina left for the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii over the Christmas break, the Gamecocks lost at home to Manhattan and USC Upstate by a combined 24 points.
They earned a third-place finish in Hawaii and have won three straight games by double-digits.
South Carolina coach Frank Martin pointed to a stretch just before halftime in which the Gamecocks turned a one-point deficit into a 36-31 lead despite the fact four starters were on the bench with two fouls each. He said two weeks ago his team would not be able to withstand that type of pressure.
"I was worried about this matchup because they're extremely athletic and they attack you," Martin said. "I was worried about getting into foul trouble, and as the game played out, that is what happened. Credit the guys that were there at the end of the first half. They took the lead and we didn't wilt. Earlier in the year, we wilted. They stayed the course, we made some plays and we took a lead into the locker room."
Marshall (5-8) lost for the sixth time in the last seven games. Shawn Smith led Marshall with a career-high 19 points and Ryan Taylor added 18 but the lack of defensive effort in the second half was too much to overcome.
"We didn't have many stops period," Marshall coach Tom Herrion said. "Our defense wasn't very good in the second half. I thought we bothered them a little bit in the first half and got the ball out in transition but they run their stuff and we didn't do a good enough job guarding it."
Because of the early foul trouble, the Gamecocks were fresh in the second half and that proved to be pivotal. Ty Johnson and Brenton Williams each scored 18 points to lead a balance attack.
The Gamecocks built on the five-point halftime lead and took firm control with a 14-1 run. Duane Notice ignited it with a 3-pointer and he scored seven points and added two assists to give South Carolina a 61-41 lead with a little over 12 minutes remaining. The lead would not be less than 17 points the rest of the way.
During an eight-minute stretch, the Gamecocks scored on nine straight possessions and 14 of 16 as they increased the lead from 45-38 to 74-54 with 7:28 remaining.
"Our defense set the tone," Williams said. "We were able to get stops and that allowed us to get out and run and set things up on the offensive end."
Marshall's leading scorer, Kareem Canty was held to 11 points on 2-of-15 shooting. He also had 11 of the Herd's 16 turnovers. The perimeter defense was key.
"The guys off the ball aren't allowing the ball to get into guys comfort zones," Martin said. "That's as good off the ball defense that I've seen from us."
Notice scored 13 points and Demetrius Henry added 12 for the Gamecocks (6-6). Williams broke the South Carolina record for consecutive free throws when he completed a three-point play with 9:15 remaining. The senior has made 42 straight free throws dating to last season. He broke the record of 41 previously held by John Roche.