COLUMBIA — Waiting a day didn’t change it.
South Carolina — yes, the same South Carolina that lost to Stony Brook, was whipped by Wofford, blew it to 2-6 Wyoming — is undefeated in the Southeastern Conference.
The Gamecocks answered every Missouri charge 85-75 in a rare Sunday game, delayed a day after the Tigers were snowed in in their home state. Felipe Haase and A.J. Lawson splashed back-to-back 3-pointers to stifle Missouri’s final breath after the Tigers cut an 11-point deficit to three.
“We didn’t shoot it real good, we didn’t rebound on the defensive end, but somehow, some way … ,” USC coach Frank Martin said.
Martin expressed the same sentiment to his team after a 4-7 start. He refused to accept rampant injuries as an excuse (and the Gamecocks lost another player before the game) and doggedly stuck to his line — USC was getting better, even though the record didn’t show it.
The Gamecocks are a mere 8-7, two highways and a gravel path away from realistically talking about the postseason. But they’re 3-0 in the SEC for only the third time in 28 seasons, and the first time (1996-97), they won their only SEC regular-season championship.
The second time (2016-17), they went to their only Final Four.
“We look at (the record),” freshman sensation Keyshawn Bryant said. “It’s good to be 3-0, but after every game, we look to our next game, try to get another win.”
* Everybody contributed. Five Gamecocks were in double figures, led by 15 points from Bryant. Chris Silva again avoided foul trouble and again dominated in spurts, holding a lead in the first 10 minutes of the second half nearly single-handedly.
The Gamecocks continue to experience offensive lulls, but they found ways to not make the lapses last as long. Whether it was getting to the line (29 of 35) or just popping a big shot, USC disrupted opponent runs.
* Freshman Alanzo Frink had to play extended minutes as Maik Kotsar got in first-half foul trouble. The rookie responded with seven points and a fearless approach to the paint against the Tigers’ massive interior.
“Alanzo has great instincts for the game. He’s one of those kids, he finds the ball,” Martin said. “But he’s got to learn what we do. He’s willing to make plays, but he’s got to learn what we’re doing.”
* Felipe Haase started the 3-0 run with his baseball pass to Silva for the game-winning dunk at Florida. He continues to flourish, still making some silly mistakes (three turnovers Sunday) but shooting well (14 points) and grabbing six rebounds.
* Hassani Gravett missed all six of his field goals but was 12 of 12 from the line.
* Point guard Tre Campbell struggled when he first arrived, coming off a major knee injury two seasons ago and finding it rough to adapt to USC’s system. He’s figured it out and given the Gamecocks stability at a spot where they haven’t had any since P.J. Dozier went pro.
“The reason I took him is he played in structure, but he played completely different from what we play,” Martin said. “Because he’s playing better, no surprise, we’re playing better.”
* “Our inability to get a defensive rebound in the second half made things real difficult for us,” Martin said.
The Gamecocks had 17 but allowed 16 Missouri offensive boards. That led to 19 second-chance points.
* USC is winning, but it was the second game in a row an opponent was shooting well over 50 percent for a long stretch. The Tigers ended at 51 percent after Mississippi State was over 45.
The pre-game tweets from USC’s men’s basketball account are required reading. Not for witty banter, but for who’s hurt today.
The latest: Sophomore center Jason Cudd is out indefinitely after dislocating his left knee. He’s the fifth Gamecock to miss at least one game due to injury this season.
Frink, T.J. Moss, Justin Minaya, Kotsar and Cudd have all been hit with injuries this season. Moss will redshirt after foot surgery, while Minaya still isn’t back after November knee surgery.
Cudd was likely to redshirt anyway after only playing 28 minutes all season, but the knock again whittles USC’s depth. The Gamecocks had 11 healthy players Sunday, two of whom were walk-ons.
The Gamecocks are at Vanderbilt on Wednesday.