Despite 18 points from sophomore guard Eric Smith, South Carolina was again humbled by a small conference opponent as Tennessee State defeated the Gamecocks 64-63 at the Colonial Life Arena.
South Carolina head coach Darrin Horn
Last season, South Carolina would go long stretches without making a basket and that trend continued against the Tigers. Lakeem Jackson would make a layup in transition to give the Gamecocks a 7-6 lead with 12:22 remaining in the first half. South Carolina would follow that with a stretch two minutes and 55 seconds before making another basket.
Carolina would cut the TSU lead to three points at 18-15 with five minutes and 31 seconds remaining in the half on a Damien Leonard three pointer. From that point on, Tennessee State would outscore the Gamecocks 15-4 over the final few minutes of the half in building their 14 point half time advantage.
It was a new game but same story for the Gamecocks (1-2) on Sunday night as they once again got off to a slow start making just five of their 22 shot attempts in the first half. The Tigers forced South Carolina into 12 turnovers and TSU made 6-of-13 shots from behind the three-point line in building a 33-19 first half lead.
Tennessee State would continue the onslaught in the opening minutes of the second half as they built a 22-point advantage of 47-25 with 13:55 remaining. At that point, South Carolina would begin bring full court pressure on the Tigers while Smith and Malik Cooke would lead the offensive charge.
Smith would hit two shots from three-point range with a Cooke layup sandwiched in between. Following a R.J. Slawson dunk, Cooke would score five straight points before a Smith layup and free throw would bring South Carolina to within five at 51-46. Prior to the 21-4 run, Carolina had scored 25 points in 27 minutes of game action but found a way to score 21 in six minutes.
The Tigers would regain their composure and momentum by taking an eight point lead with 2:37 to go. Smith would again step up knocking down back-to-back three pointers to trim the Tiger lead to 64-62 with 1:11 to go. Smith would miss a three pointer with 11 seconds remaining but Slawson would grab the loose ball and be fouled on the way up. He would make one of two free throws and the Gamecocks would not get a shot off in the final seconds to lose by a final of 64-63.
The 18 points by Smith was a career high for the sophomore from Mullins as he connected on 6-of-10 shots, including going making 5-of-7 from three-point range. Cooke and Slawson both finished with 10 points. South Carolina would shoot much better in the second half making 17of their 33 attempts however finished the game shooting 40 percent as they made 22-of-55 shots and made just 7-of-26 three-point attempts.
South Carolina’s next contest is on Tuesday against Mississippi Valley State. It will be the second game of the Las Vegas Invitational and the final game before the team heads out to Orleans Arena in Las Vegas for their Friday showdown with North Carolina. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Tuesday night with the game being televised by SportSouth.