COLUMBIA — Dawn Staley expected growing pains and rust. She got both.
But as long as they were just in the first half of a 103-43 season-opening rout of Alabama State Tuesday, she’s OK with them.
Freshman center Aliyah Boston debuted with the seventh triple-double in school history and the No. 8 Gamecocks overcame a sloppy first half to race past the Hornets. It’s the team’s only warmup before a colossal Top-10 matchup at No. 4 Maryland Sunday, and the first 17 minutes began with solid play before devolving into a litany of careless turnovers and missed shots.
Sophomore Destanni Henderson stuck a 3-pointer for a 15-point lead with 2:50 to go in the second quarter and USC (1-0) found its footing. The Gamecocks routed Alabama State for the third straight season.
“I didn’t know, I had no idea. Then coach was like, ‘You were two blocks away,’” Boston said of being put back in the game to get her accomplishment. “Then that happened.”
Boston got the blocks in just under three minutes before re-taking her seat.
Three members of the country’s best recruiting class started alongside seniors Ty Harris and Mikiah Herbert Harrigan. Boston scored 12 points, snared 12 rebounds and blocked 10 shots while Zia Cooke scored 13.
It was clear Staley wanted to see how the rotations could work without her two most experienced players on the floor, as she sat Harris and Herbert Harrigan for most of the first half. That’s when the moss began to gather, but it didn’t linger.
“We’re trying to get our younger players up to speed. Sometimes we like to take that experience off the floor to see if they’ll swim or sink,” Staley said. “We have to put them in those situations where they gain some experience, and experience before they go in and play a team like Maryland.”
Staley has spoken of this team’s chemistry, an important note considering last year’s team often seemed to devolve into selfishness. It was evident how much fun this year’s Gamecocks are having by the way they crowded around Lele Grissett after a missed layup and a hard Alabama State foul.
“This is the makeup of this team. They are genuinely happy for each other,” Staley said. “I can’t wait till we’re able to continue this kind of championship behavior, because that’s exactly what it is.”
Freshman Olivia Thompson, the walk-on from nearby Lexington who’s already a crowd favorite, scored seven points in one dizzying fourth-quarter minute and finished with 10. Her first career 3-pointer earned her a standing ovation from the crowd and a team-wide group hug at center court.
“I was very nervous before I got on the court. When I got out there, I was calm and I hit the first shot and I was, ‘OK, it’s looking good,’” Thompson said. “I’m still on cloud nine, to be honest.”
Run … something
Like in the exhibition game, the Gamecocks didn’t run too many set plays. They relied on their speed and defense to create transition buckets, which resulted in 30 points off turnovers and 25 on the break.
That worked against Alabama State. It won’t against Maryland and most of the SEC teams they’ll play.
The Gamecocks play the Terrapins and then travel to Dayton three days later. After that are home games against Appalachian State and USC Upstate before traveling to Clemson on Nov. 24.