COLUMBIA, SC Jan. 16, 2015 — The No. 19/15 South Carolina men’s basketball team wasted no time getting back on the winning track, beating Missouri 81-72 Saturday afternoon. The win moves the Gamecocks to 16-1, 3-1 in the SEC, while Missouri drops back to 8-9, 1-3. Key runs to bookend the first half would be the difference as the two teams dueled for all 40 minutes. Sindarius Thornwell recorded his 11th career 20-point game to lead the offense.
Behind a supportive home crowd of 15,389, the Gamecocks found their confidence early on and ran out to an 8-0 lead in the first four minutes of action. Missouri coughed the ball up five times and missed its first four shots before finally getting on the board with 16:14 to play.
The Tigers closed back to three, 11-8, but Thornwell took control and led the Gamecocks on a 12-2 run over the next three minutes to push the team to its largest lead of the half at 23-10. The junior, fresh off receiving a game ball in recognition of scoring his 1,000th career point against Vanderbilt, scored eight points from the field during the run.
Missouri went over three minutes without a point at the midway point in the period, allowing Carolina to hold a double-digit lead until the Tigers made a run of their own. A 10-0 burst from the visitors cut the lead to just three, 27-24, with 6:22 to play, but Thornwell made sure they would get no closer. After hitting a midrange jumper to break a two-minute scoring drought, Thornwell then found Duane Notice on an extra pass that pushed the lead back to six.
The Tiger offense warmed up as the half came to a close, making 8-of-11 field goals over the final eight minutes and cutting the lead all the way down to one, 35-34, with two minutes to play.The Gamecocks closed out the period on a 6-0 run to go into halftime up 41-34, with four coming from PJ Dozier. The freshman guard scored nine points total in the half, and Thornwell led all scorers with 13.
The quick run to end the half would prove to be crucial, as the second half developed into a shootout between the two teams. Missouri’s Wes Clark, who suffered a season-ending injury against the Gamecocks last season, had a career day in his return to Columbia. The junior guard went for 26 points in the game, 13 coming in the second half. He and teammate Ryan Rosberg (12 points, 6-of-6 on field goals) powered the Mizzou offense in the second half, but Thornwell and Mindaugas Kacinas would play them to a draw and helped Carolina maintain its two-possession lead.
The two sides had nearly identical stat lines for the half, with Missouri’s five extra 3-pointers made countered by Carolina’s 11 extra conversions at the free throw line. The Gamecock’s struggles from 3-point range carried over from Wednesday’s game at Alabama, but they made up for it with aggressive rebounding and an efficient interior offense. Despite finishing just 3-of-21 from 3, the Gamecocks shot 60 percent on two-point field goals in the game.
A three-point play from Kacinas with 1:09 to play pushed Carolina’s lead back into double digits at 75-64, enough to hold off a late barrage of 3s from Missouri. Kacinas finished with a team-high 10 points in the second half on 4-of-5 shooting.
The rebounding battle would be won decisively by South Carolina on Saturday, with the team finishing plus-12 in offensive rebounds against Missouri. That advantage led to the Gamecocks outscoring Missouri 21-5 on second-chance points
The Gamecocks were able to use their size advantage to outmuscle Missouri down low. Along with hitting 60 percent of its two-point field goals, Carolina enjoyed a 22-9 advantage in free throws made.
South Carolina will play two SEC road games next week, the first at Ole Miss on Tuesday, before traveling to Knoxville for a mid-day Saturday matchup vs. the Vols. Carolina suffered a loss in the 2015 regular-season meeting with the Rebels, but posted a 60-58 victory on three last-second free throws from senior guard Tyrone Johnson in the SEC Tournament last March. Carolina only faced Tennessee once in 2015, but it was a Gamecock win in Knoxville, the first road win in the series for Carolina since 2002.
- Sindarius Thornwell responded well to a slow night offensively at Alabama, scoring a season-high 22 points. He is averaging 16.3 points per game so far in the SEC season.
- Saturday was just the third time all season that the Gamecocks were outshot in a game, allowing Missouri to finish with a 49-45 advantage in field goal percentage. South Carolina is now 2-1 when being outshot this season.
- The team is now 10-0 at home this season, already matching its win total from all of last season.
- South Carolina is 3-1 to start the conference season for the first time since 2011.
- Thornwell was presented with a ball pregame to commemorate his 1,000th career point. After his 22-point showing Saturday, he passed Jack Gilloon (1,027, 1974-78) in the career scoring list.
- PJ Dozier scored 11 points Saturday, his first double-figure game since Dec. 18 at Clemson. Four Gamecocks in total went for double figures against Missouri, the ninth time it has happened this season.