COLUMBIA — The last time South Carolina started a basketball season this well, the Gamecocks finished it in the NCAA Tournament.
USC’s torrid start to the 2015-16 campaign continued Saturday, when the Gamecocks opened with a big scoring barrage and never trailed in an 81-63 victory over South Florida at Colonial Life Arena. South Carolina (8-0) matched its best start since leaving the ACC, that of the 2003-04 team which was also USC’s last to earn an NCAA berth.
Michael Carrera paced four USC players in double-figures with 19 points, while Sindarius Thornwell and Duane Notice scored 15 each. The Gamecocks shot 60 percent in the first half, when they went on an 19-0 run which coincided with a seven-minute South Florida scoreless streak.
“It was a testament to us getting into the gym,” Notice said. “I know for a fact after we had a film session, guys came in the gym (Friday) night on their own and shot. We try to do that every day.”
South Florida head coach Orlando Antigua was more succinct: “They threw a haymaker,” he said. “Punched us right in the mouth. We tucked our chin in, and were looking for mommy.”
With a victory in its next game Dec. 15 against Drexel, South Carolina can match the 9-0 start recorded by Frank McGuire’s 1970-71 squad, which won the ACC title. The best start in program history is 17-0, by a 1933-34 team which competed in the Southern Conference.
USC led by as many as 36 points early in the second half, but cooled off and hit just two field goals in the final nine minutes of the game to allow the Bulls (2-7) to creep within 13 with 4:09 left. A layup by Carrera and a one-handed dunk by freshman Chris Silva helped the Gamecocks widen the gap once again.
“Hopefully we can use the second half to learn,” said USC head coach Frank Martin. “Part of the maturity of a basketball team is to understand any situation, and not take anything for granted.”
Martin and Antigua, who are close friends, are the only two Hispanic-American head coaches in major conference basketball. The game was scheduled in large part to try and change that.
“When Orlando and I spoke about scheduling, it wasn’t because we wanted to play each other. It was about the impact hopefully we can make,” Martin said. “... We have to continue to make presidents and ADs out there understand that guys like us, that we’re capable of doing our jobs, that we’re responsible and care about doing our jobs. That’s a big flag we carry around.”