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Stevenson leads Gamecocks to victory over stubborn Wofford

Erik Stevenson

Erik Stevenson splashed a season-high 25 points on Nov. 23. Katie Dugan/Gamecock Central

COLUMBIA — Stee-Vee 4 3.

Marketing, are you listening?

Erik Stevenson, recruited to South Carolina after starting his career at Wichita State, then spending a year at his home-state Washington, was pigeonholed as “the shooter” when he arrived. Eyebrows were raised when he started his USC career 2 of 25 from the 3-point line, which while it’s not an exact science, most three-legged yard dogs could shoot better than that.

Since, he’s 8 of 12. His five 3-pointers on Nov. 23 were part of a season-high 25 points as he led the Gamecocks to an 85-74 win over gritty Wofford.

“I don’t know if anything changed, really. I’m still shooting it well, with confidence,” Stevenson said. “Just trying to help the team. They need me to score some nights. Tonight was one of those nights.”

USC (4-1) outlasted a Terriers squad that despite missing starting forward Messiah Jones, played smart, disciplined basketball, working for free-throw opportunities and staying right on their average of making 9 to 10 of their 27 3-point attempts per game. The Gamecocks got next to nothing from their post game, and starting point guard Jermaine Couisnard continues to be plagued by slippery hands, so somebody had to shoulder the mantle.

Stevenson, who has drawn raves from coach Frank Martin for his leadership skills despite being one of the nine newcomers that came in this year, certainly didn’t mind.

“James Reese, Erik Stevenson,” Martin said. “Those guys have elevated (the others’) spirits.”

Stevenson’s 3 started the scoring. He had 18 points at the half. He led the team with six rebounds, too, just so nobody could say he was standing around waiting to shoot.

They don’t give out a game ball in a basketball locker room, but if they did, Stevenson’s name would replace the “Wilson” already etched on it. Big shot, big assist, big rebound, even diving on the floor to force a jump ball for a possession he was about to turn over, Stevenson was all over the court.

“I got to credit the program, the staff, the players, my teammates. They’re always telling me to shoot it,” Stevenson said. “It’s a relief to have a group of guys, a group of family members, to build my confidence and tell me to keep shooting.”

The Terriers (4-2) kept drawing fouls and splashing 3s, answering an 8-0 USC run to start the second half with a 12-0 burst to tie the game. The Gamecocks kept turning to Stevenson as Reese and Couisnard began to heat, and freshman Jacobi Wright, spelling Couisnard at the point, popped a couple of key jumpers.

Reese had 15, nailing a 3-pointer with a hand in his face with five minutes to play to make it a 14-point lead. Couisnard had 14 to soothe the sting of his four turnovers and now has 25 for the year.

“We’ve got to get Jermaine to stop turning the ball over,” Martin said. “But Jermaine’s playing with confidence right now.”

Wofford hit 12 3-pointers but launched 35. They had less turnovers (14) than USC’s 17, but the Gamecocks did more with the Terriers’ yips, scoring 22 points off them.

USC also hit 12 3s, which was enough to offset the lack of free-throw opportunities, more point-guard concerns and not much from the big guys, despite the debut of forward A.J. Wilson.  

Martin again praised his team’s resolve and attitude, saying nothing’s ever perfect but everybody returns each day wanting to get it right. The bottom line is USC has played four straight games against mid-major teams picked to finish at or near the top of their respective leagues, and only lost to one.

“To get better, you got to play these kind of teams,” Martin said. “These last four games have made us improve, and that’s a credit to our guys.”

Next up

The Gamecocks host Rider at 2 p.m. on Nov. 28.

Follow David Cloninger on Twitter @DCPandC.

From Rock Hill, S.C., David Cloninger covers Gamecock sports. He will not rest until he owns every great film and song ever recorded.

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