South Carolina beats UTEP 80-56 in Puerto Rico Tip-Off
CONWAY, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina coach Frank Martin is quick to say he has to sort out what kind of team he has after last year’s surprise Final Four run.
Take Friday’s 80-56 win against UTEP in the relocated Puerto Rico Tip-Off, coming a day after the Gamecocks’ struggle-filled loss to Illinois State in the tournament opener.
“We probably took it for granted with such a young team that their mindset would be what last year’s mindset was,” Martin said. “We just kind of let them be Wednesday night. We probably should’ve been a little more aggressive with mental preparation with them.
“And that goes back to us continuing to try to figure out our team this year.”
Chris Silva scored a team-high 15 points for South Carolina (3-1), which couldn’t overcome Illinois State’s zone defense nor its own cold shooting Thursday. But the Gamecocks were much sharper against the Miners (1-2), building a double-digit lead in the first 6 minutes and shooting 55 percent in the first half.
South Carolina led 50-24 at the break and by 32 points after halftime.
“We just wanted to come in and respond differently than how we came in the game yesterday,” said Kory Holden, who had 11 points. “It ate at us all night.”
Matt Willms scored 18 points for UTEP, which hit shots early but undercut any momentum with a constant stream of turnovers. UTEP committed 16 turnovers in the first half, leading to 21 points for the Gamecocks, and finished with 23.
“They just paralyzed us with their pressure, which they do to most teams,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “They got out and overplayed us and we just couldn’t make basketball plays.”
South Carolina: The Gamecocks responded with a fast start in an early game — it tipped off at 10:30 a.m. — and never trailed. At one point midway through the first half, they made more shots (11) than the Miners attempted (10). And they shared the basketball, finishing with 14 assists on 17 baskets before halftime to turn it into a romp.
UTEP: The Miners have had a rough first two days in Conway, which is hosting the Tip-Off due to hurricane damage in Puerto Rico. First they blew a nine-point lead in the final 3:23 to lose on a final-seconds three-point play to Boise State on Thursday. Then they had no response at all for South Carolina’s edge.
“No, we need to practice,” Floyd said of Saturday’s off day at the tournament. “I don’t think I could rest real good without a practice.”
UTEP lost leading scorer and rebounder Keith Frazier to a first-half injury when he stepped on Martin’s foot as he backpedaled after launching a 3-pointer near the South Carolina bench. Frazier hit the floor grabbing his right ankle with 2:25 left, with Martin leaning over to tend to him along with medical staff.
“I feel like crap about it,” Martin said. “I wasn’t on the court. But I was kind of straddling the line. And he landed on my foot. I hope it’s not a bad sprain. ... My heart goes out. That’s the first time that’s ever happened to me in 34 years on the sideline.”
Frazier, who is averaging 17.5 points and 9.5 rebounds, was able to walk off the court and sat on the bench during the second half. Floyd said he didn’t know about the severity of the injury.
“Frank didn’t do it on purpose,” Floyd said. “Lord knows, I’m out there on the floor a hell of a lot more than Frank. But it was just one of those things that happened in a ballgame. And I’m sure he’ll be OK. And it certainly didn’t have anything to do with us losing the basketball game.”
South Carolina: The Gamecocks will play Western Michigan in Sunday’s fifth-place game.
UTEP: The Miners will play Appalachian State in Sunday’s seventh-place game.
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