What we learned as Gamecocks hold off USC Upstate to snap 3-game losing skid

South Carolina needed this one.

Growing pains aren’t surprising for a team with a brand new coaching staff and a nearly brand new roster. But the Gamecocks were scuffling coming into Friday’s game against USC Upstate — coming off three straight losses at last weekend’s Charleston Classic.

The Gamecocks couldn’t afford to lose against the Spartans, who ranked 317th among 363 Division 1 teams on KenPom.com leading into the contest.

Though USC struggled in the first half — especially defensively — the Gamecocks (3-3) came out on top over the Spartans 68-53, ending their three-game skid before next week’s multi-game road trip to Washington D.C.

Here’s what we learned.

Second-half run

For a moment, the injury-sapped Gamecocks appeared on the verge of a fourth-straight loss. They trailed the Spartans 31-28 at halftime and allowed USC Upstate to shoot 52% from the field.

However, USC came out of the locker room in the second half with a more urgent energy. The Gamecocks went on a 10-0 run at the start of the second half to take a 38-33 point lead, forcing the Spartans to take a timeout.

Perhaps more importantly, the Gamecocks clamped down on the defensive end in the second half, holding the Spartans under 50% shooting and out-rebounding them on the glass 19-12.

Once again, freshman phenom GG Jackson paced the scoring for USC, putting up a team-high and career-high 22 points. Jackson came into the game as USC’s leading scorer, with 16.2 points per contest.

More injury woes

USC was down a pair of starters in Friday’s game.

Starting point guard Meechie Johnson has battled a right ankle injury since the first game of the season, tweaking it a couple of times during subsequent games. Paris said after the team’s weekend in Charleston that Johnson was “a shell” of himself due to the injury.

Veteran guard Chico Carter Jr., the team’s starting shooting guard, also sat out Friday’s game due to a left ankle injury he suffered in the team’s last game against Furman. Carter’s loss is a big one as he ranks second on the team with 13.8 points per game and first on the team with 14 3-pointers.

Both players were labeled as “day-to-day,” per a team spokesperson.

Youthful backcourt

Due to the absences of Carter and Johnson, Paris started a youthful backcourt in the form sophomore Jacobi Wright at point guard and lengthy freshman Zachary Davis at shooting guard.

It was the third start of the season for Wright, who has emerged as one of the team’s top perimeter shooters during the early season slate of games. Wright continued to show his shooting touch, scoring 10 points.

Davis made his first career start. Despite his 6-foot-8 frame, Davis played point guard at Denmar-Olar High and has drawn compliments for his passing vision.

Davis struggled early in the game, and Paris opted to play senior walk-on Ford Cooper Jr. at the position for much of the contest, giving him 15 minutes in the first half alone. At one point, both Cooper and fellow walk-on Eli Sparkman played in the backcourt at the same time.

But Davis regrouped in the second half to deliver a key 3-pointer, punctuating a 10-0 run by USC.

Next four USC MBB games

Nov. 30: at George Washington, 9 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)

Dec. 3: at Georgetown, 12 p.m. (FS1)

Dec. 11: vs. Presbyterian, 6 p.m. (SEC Network Plus)

Dec. 14: at UAB, 7 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)