Gamecocks Power Past High Point in NIT Opener

COLUMBIA, S.C. – The South Carolina Gamecocks (25-8) matched the program record for wins in a season Tuesday night with an 88-66 win over High Point (21-11) to open competition in the NIT. A nearly unstoppable offensive performance from Laimonas Chatkevicius led the way, as the senior poured in 30 points and the team shot 60 percent overall in the game.

The Gamecocks were able to exploit a height advantage at nearly every position to take control of the game early inside. Chatkevicius scored six of the team’s first nine points in the game and entered the halftime break with 14 on 7-of-8 shooting from the floor.

Carolina’s offense was as efficient as it has been all season, the team’s shooting percentage never dipped below 50 percent in the game and the only missed two shots or more in a row four times while hitting back-to-back field goals 12 different times in the game. High Point would switch up to a zone and trap defense to try and take away any rhythm, but the Gamecocks would appear unfazed by the different looks. It would be up to the Panthers’ offense to get them back in the game, and they would do that and more in the final 10 minutes of the half.

In a span of just under six minutes starting with 8:13 to play, High Point made 10-of-11 field goals to cut the deficit down from 31-13 to 42-41 with 2:28 remaining. Of those 10 made field goals, six came from 3-point range. Despite the comeback, South Carolina would lead wire-to-wire and went to the break ahead 48-43. Along with Chatkevicius’ 14 points, Sindarius Thornwell scored 10 points and Michael Carrera scored eight with seven rebounds in his first action since March 3.

The Gamecocks scored the first seven points out of the break to push back into double figures, but High Point used the 3 to remain within striking distance at 57-52 with 15 minutes to play. The Panther offense would stagnate from that point on, though, and a crippling eight-minute scoring drought would put the game out of reach. High Point missed 10-straight shots in that stretch and committed six turnovers, and when the dust settled the Gamecocks reeled off 20 unanswered points and topped out at its largest lead of the night with an 88-62 lead with 2:40 to play.

The second half would be all about Chatkevicius and Thornwell. The duo combined to score 26 of the team’s 40 points in the period. Laimonas went 8-of-8 from the field over 13 second-half minutes to finish 15-of-16 for the game and set a new career-high of 30 points. After an early miss in the first half, he made 13-straight field goals to tie a program record set back in 1979 by Cedrick Hordges.

The Gamecock offense was efficient inside and out all night, finishing the game at 60 percent as a team. It was the first time since 2005 that a Gamecock team made 60 percent of its shots or better in a game, and the 25 total assists are a season high for the team. It wasn’t just putting the ball through the hoop that Carolina excelled at for the night. The Gamecocks also held sizable advantages in rebounds (39-25) and assists (25-14), and committed just nine turnovers all night.

GAMECHANGER

The Panthers were able to hang around early on in the second half, but a 20-0 run that spanned eight minutes pushed South Carolina’s lead from 57-52 to 77-52. High Point missed 10 straight shots and committed six turnovers during the Gamecocks’ run.

KEY STAT

The Gamecocks were almost literally unstoppable in the paint on offense Tuesday night, outscoring High Point 58-10. It was the widest margin of the season for the Gamecocks, who already boasted a plus-10 average in the category for the season coming into the game. The second-closest margin was plus-28 against Tennessee on Feb. 24. This is the second time this season South Carolina has scored 50 or points in the paint, with the other time coming against Lipscomb.

UP NEXT

The Gamecocks will await the winner of the Georgia Tech and Houston game in the next round of the tournament. The two play Wednesday night at Georgia Tech. The game is scheduled for Monday, March 21 at either 7 or 9 p.m. at Colonial Life Arena.

NOTABLE

  • The 25 wins this season match the 1969-70 team for most in school history. It was also the team’s 16th home win of the season, the most since 2008-09.
  • Laimonas Chatkevicius’ 15 field goals in the game are a new NIT record for the team, beating out Larry Davis’ 12 field goals against Davidson in 1996. It was also the most field goals by a Gamecock since Devan Downey in 2010.
  • Tonight was the first meeting between the regional foes. High Point is now 0-2 all-time in the NIT, South Carolina is 22-9.
  • Tuesday was South Carolina’s first postseason game since 2008-09, and first postseason win since taking home the NIT title in 2006.
  • The game was Sindarius Thornwell’s 100th for his collegiate career. The junior has never missed a game since he stepped on practice, and has started in all 100 of those games.

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