DARRIN HORN VIDEOClick SAM MULDROW, BRUCE ELLINGTON VIDEOClick
South Carolina expected a fight from Wofford, and received one.
Almost quite literally.
The Gamecocks avenged last year's loss to the Terriers in a 64-53 win on Saturday, surviving a chippy contest with four combined technical fouls. Dominant early, shaky late and harassed throughout, USC's young team faced one of its biggest challenges from the opponent and from itself.
Namely, controlling their tempers when several whistles for slight fouls interrupted them as they were trying to re-discover their offensive rhythm. Bruce Ellington was so steamed over one that he was walked to the bench by Malik Cooke, angrily casting Cooke's consoling arm away; Ramon Galloway buried his face in a teammate's chest and screamed after being called for his fourth foul late in the game, but the remark was heard and deemed technical-worthy, which ended his night.
Another fantastic game from center Sam Muldrow and Ellington's game-high 18 points, three on a crucial 3-pointer with 1:39 to go, helped smooth the rough spots and USC (7-1) got a resume-boosting win. The Terriers (4-6), living up to their name, never quit pressing and defending, even as Muldrow stood at half-court working clock.
Muldrow cast a disapproving eye at guard Brad Loesing, who kept an outstretched hand on Muldrow even as it was apparent that USC wasn't going to shoot. The frustrated looks on the Terriers' faces said it all.
"I think our guys sensed that Wofford came into the game thinking they were going to win the game," coach Darrin Horn said. "That they were just going to roll in here and beat us. And I think they took offense to that, quite honestly."
"We got together and just told the team to stay focused and do what we did in the first half," Ellington said. "I was a little hyped at the end, but coach just calmed me down and told me to stay focused."
Ellington's 3, delivered with a snappy salute to the student section as he ran downcourt, cinched the game after Wofford had come charging back from a 12-point halftime deficit. Cameron Rundles scored 17 of his game-high 20 points in the second half to lead the Terriers, who began exploiting USC's weakness in the half-court offense to pick up loose balls.
The Gamecocks turned it over 19 times, trying to get back to what was working so well in the first half. That involved pounding away at the Terriers' interior defense with Muldrow and the rest of USC's big men, but as Rundles kept hitting and the Gamecocks kept slipping, Wofford climbed within four, then two, then tied the game at 34 with 15:05 to play.
Galloway hit a short jumper to re-take the lead, but Jamar Diggs took an assist from Terry Martin to tie it again at 36. Lakeem Jackson cleaned up an Ellington miss with a putback dunk and the Gamecocks never trailed again, buoyed by the fouls beginning to go against Wofford.
Galloway was fouled out on his technical but Diggs, who had been Wofford's half of a double technical earlier with Cooke, hacked Ellington on a drive to the basket. The offense was deemed serious enough for a tech, not an intentional, and Diggs had to leave the floor while Brian Richardson sunk two free throws.
Ellington followed by making one of his two tries, and USC took off. Wofford couldn't get over a few too many key misses from Rundles and the continued absence of forward Noah Dahlman, who scored 14 but was a mere 3-of-12 from the field.
"It seemed like he was getting a little frustrated," said Muldrow, who stuffed Dahlman three times in the first half. "We tried to keep moving our feet and have our hands up, make him score over us."
Dahlman, averaging close to 20 a game, was locked down early as Muldrow rejected him thrice and Cooke did it once. Deprived of their go-to scorer, the Terriers floundered until Rundles picked them up in the second half.
Yet, Wofford only shot 32.7 percent as USC, sprung by a massive lane advantage early, shot 49 percent. The Gamecocks were all over the paint in the first half, putting on a dunking exhibition as they built their halftime lead.
At the center of it was Muldrow, who scored nine, rebounded seven and didn't miss a first-half shot, including a 3-pointer. He ended with 14 points and 14 boards, hitting six of his eight field-goal attempts.
"Individually, he was probably the difference," Horn said.
USC re-entered the season from the exam break and embarked on another rest session, off until it travels to No. 2 Ohio State in a week. With no classes and an empty campus, the Gamecocks will work on getting better offensively, although Horn was very pleased with how his team continues to spread the big plays around.
Beating Wofford will be a very nice gold star on the resume in March, but USC has to get many more wins to make that resume appear in the right hands. Thus far, the Gamecocks are perhaps playing better than expected, and the task is to keep it up.
"A total team effort and win, which I think is going to be our strength," Horn said. "We're very happy to get this one."