COLUMBIA — South Carolina wanted to stick a pin in an NCAA tournament bubble team for the second consecutive game. Instead, Danuel House may have shot a hole in USC’s hopes of a winning season.
The one-time USC recruit struck for 25 points, including seven 3-pointers, as Texas A&M held off the Gamecocks, 62-52, Saturday before 12,309 at Colonial Life Arena. House hit big shots early to give the Aggies some breathing room, hit big shots late to stifle USC’s comeback attempt, and pulled Texas A&M a little closer to the Big Dance while leaving the Gamecocks staring at the prospect of a sixth straight losing campaign.
“House was a difference- maker,” said USC head coach Frank Martin. “He’s real good.”
He certainly was against a Gamecocks team missing two players due to suspension, another because of illness, and saw its best defender sit for most of the first half after Sindarius Thornwell picked up two fouls in the first three minutes. USC went to a zone, while a hot House buried 5-of-6 treys to put Texas A&M up 13 points at the break.
“We were trying to guard him the whole time, but he’s a pretty good player,” said Michael Carrera, who led USC with 17 points and nine boards. “He made some shots. He was feeling it. It happens.”
South Carolina (13-13, 4-10 SEC) battled back to within five points twice within the final nine minutes, but both times House responded with 3s to extend the lead once again. Against a rangy zone which made it tough for the Gamecocks to get the ball inside, USC shot 27 percent, including 7-of-26 from the 3-point line.
“They’re a good driving team,” said Aggies coach Billy Kennedy. “We wanted to make them shoot 3s with a hand up, and I thought we did a pretty good job of that.”
While Texas A&M (19-7, 10-4) won its third straight to bolster its hopes of a first NCAA bid since 2011, USC took a step back after Tuesday’s upset at Georgia. The Gamecocks are trying to finish with a winning record for the first time since 2008-09, the first season under former coach Darrin Horn. They have four regular-season games remaining, the next Tuesday at Arkansas.
USC is without suspended forwards Demetrius Henry and Shamiek Sheppard until at least the SEC tournament. Guard Marcus Stroman also missed his fourth straight game with a throat infection that hospitalized him for several days and caused him to lose 20 pounds, Martin said. Stroman resumed a normal diet Saturday, and could be cleared as soon as Sunday when he completes his antibiotic course.
But returning to playing shape is another matter altogether. “He wanted to play today,” Martin said. “He was mad at everybody, but that’s just not going to happen. We’re not going to do that to a kid.”
It might not have mattered against House, who tied a career-high in points and set a new career high in 3-pointers made. The 6-7 junior strongly considered USC when he transferred from Houston after last season, but wound up at Texas A&M.
“It was kind of close,” House said. “But I prayed to the man upstairs, and he’s been guiding me the right way, and I’m very grateful for that.”