COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — No one else might have believed in South Carolina as they entered Southeastern Conference play as the only team with a losing record, but Gamecocks coach Frank Martin made sure his team didn’t lose faith.
Keyshawn Bryant scored 15 points and Chris Silva added 14 points as South Carolina (8-7, 3-0 SEC) continued its surprising league start with an 85-75 win over Missouri on Sunday. It’s only the third time in 28 seasons the Gamecocks have won their first three SEC games.
“Young guys, man,” Frank Martin said when asked what has happened to a South Carolina team that went 5-7 in non-conference with losses to Stony Brook and Wofford. “Being a good team is not like flipping a light switch.”
On Sunday, it was a combination of the freshman Bryant’s 7-of-9 shooting and Silva’s taking advantage after Missouri’s big man, Jeremiah Tilmon, fouling out with 12:57 left trying to post up on Silva.
“It doesn’t matter what situation we are in — coach always believes in us,” Silva said.
The Gamecocks led the entire second half, but the Tigers (9-5, 0-2) kept hanging around. Three times Missouri cut the lead to three but couldn’t get closer.
The last time came on Javon Pickett’s 3-pointer with 3:17 left. But Felipe Hasse and A.J. Lawson hit back-to-back 3-pointers to put South Carolina ahead 79-70 with 2:03 to go.
Hasse added 14 points and six rebounds for the Gamecocks.
The freshman Pickett led all scorers with a career-high 21 points. Mark Smith and Jordan Geist each added 14 for the Tigers.
The game was originally scheduled for Saturday afternoon, but Columbia, Missouri received about a foot of snow Friday into Saturday, and the Tigers couldn’t make it out of town until Saturday.
It’s been a rough three games for Tillmon. The sophomore has fouled out of three games in a row, and his 13 minutes Sunday was his longest outing of the three.
Tillmon was disqualified in 12 minutes against Morehead State and nine minutes versus Tennessee.
Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said Tillmon’s troubles Sunday were more on him than on a veteran all-SEC preseason first team player like Silva taking advantage of him.
“It’s him looking in the mirror and figuring out his next move,” Martin said of Tillmon.
The other two times South Carolina has started 3-0 in the SEC have been special seasons.
In 1997, they started 11-0 and won their only SEC regular season title.
In 2017, South Carolina opened 5-0 in the SEC and went to their only Final Four.
A DAY LATER
Both Cuonzo Martin and Frank Martin said delaying the game by a day wasn’t a factor in the outcome. Missouri couldn’t get out Friday because the snow came faster and harder than forecast.
“It’s a part of it,” Cuonzo Martin said. “You make adjustments.”
Frank Martin said he learned winter weather can mess up plans quickly during his years coaching at Kansas State and the safety of a traveling team needs to always be first over any inconvenience of postponing a game.
“I lived out there, so I understand travel gets complicated sometimes,” he said.
Missouri: The Tigers turned the ball over 20 times, their second-worst performance this season. South Carolina had 16 turnovers, but the Gamecocks outscored Missouri 33-17 off the miscues.
South Carolina: The key to the Gamecocks surprise SEC start comes on offense. Teams typically score less once league play starts, but South Carolina is averaging 81 points in tis three SEC games, eight more points than non-conference play.
Missouri: The Tigers host Alabama on Wednesday.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks are on the road against Vanderbilt, who has opened 0-3 in the SEC.
— Associated Press —