Justin Minaya had a good look from the top of the key, but he made the extra pass to the left wing for a better opportunity. Keyshawn Bryant thought — maybe for a half-second — about launching before deciding to drive. When Bryant finished off a slick Euro-step with an easy lay-in, the theme to the night was confirmed.
Forget 3-point shooting, South Carolina was going to win its 2018-19 opener in other ways.
Bryant scored 21 points as the Gamecocks beat USC Upstate, 65-52, On Tuesday before a crowd of 10,145 at Colonial Life Arena.
“We defended and we rebounded today,” said Carolina coach Frank Martin. “And at the end of the day, those are things that are important to me. And you know you got a good time when your players play to the things your coaches harp about all the time.”
Martin’s club did a lot of things well — suffocating defense (Upstate shot 32.8 percent from the field), free throw line trips (Gamecocks went 27 of 37 from the line), owning the glass (plus-17), showcasing Bryant — but perimeter dominance wasn’t one of them. USC went an entire game without making a 3-pointer for the first time since Nov. 11, 2012, against Milwaukee — Martin’s Columbia debut.
The Gamecocks went 0 of 18 from deep.
“I thought we took good 3s,” Martin said. “I got no problem with the 3s we shot. The majority of them were catch-and-shoot 3s with the ball coming from the inside-out and off actions, stuff that we run and we’re trying to get a certain 3.
“I was happy with the 3s. We gotta make some.”
The cold spells allowed the Spartans, winners of seven games last season, to hang around for a while. Malik Moore completed a three-point play to cut the Carolina advantage to 31-28 just over two minutes into the second half. USC went on a 22-7 run over the next 10 minutes to create some cushion.
Upstate got it to single digits twice over the game’s final three minutes, but never got closer than nine. Moore led the Spartans with 16 points and nine rebounds.
“I’m very excited about my team,” said Upstate coach Dave Dickerson. “When you go on the road in the SEC and you’re starting three freshmen, it’s tough. But give a lot of credit to our guys for sticking in there.
“We couldn’t capitalize on their mistakes. And they capitalized on almost all of ours.”
The Spartans scored 11 points off USC’s 19 turnovers. The Gamecocks made 16 points out of Upstate’s 22 turnovers.
Bryant was the star. The 6-foot-6 wing was electric at times with determined takes to the rim. He threw down two dunks, including his first career field goal early in the first half. His nifty finish off Minaya’s dish increased a second half lead.
Senior Chris Silva was the only other Gamecock to score in double figures with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Hassani Gravett pulled down a career-high 12 boards.
“The man can jump out of the gym,” Gravett said of Bryant. “And any time he can attack the rim, he definitely will. You’ll see a lot more of that.”
Dickerson’s debut as Upstate coach didn’t get off to the best of beginnings. He announced during a pregame radio interview that Deion Holmes, a preseason All-Big South pick and last year’s leading scorer (15.5 points per game), will be out until at least Thanksgiving with a broken hand.
The Spartans used 10 players in the first half, including Brandon Martin. Frank’s son scored his first career college points at the 4:53 mark when he wrapped around the baseline and hit a short jumper. That cut USC’s lead to 23-14. Brandon Martin scored six points in 18 minutes.
“I was excited just to play my first college game,” Brandon Martin said. “I was a little nervous as well, and especially playing against my dad. But I just treated it as another game. We prepared real hard for this.
“It feels real good just to have my family and friends come to my game and support and cheer me on.”
Upstate led 9-2 before going on a 10:03 scoring drought. The Gamecocks were up as many as 13 in the first half. They led 30-22 at the break.
USC UPSTATE (0-1) | Moore 5-11 6-8 16, Zink 0-1 0-0 0, Hammond 5-13 0-0 13, Span 2-9 0-0 5, Mozone 2-7 0-0 5, Martin 2-3 1-2 6, Ross 1-2 0-0 2, Welch 0-2 0-0 0, Booker 1-6 0-0 2, White 1-5 0-0 3, Aldrich 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 19-59 7-10 52.
SOUTH CAROLINA (1-0) | Silva 2-9 9-12 13, Kotsar 3-6 0-1 6, Minaya 1-3 1-2 3, Campbell 1-8 1-1 3, Lawson 2-8 5-7 9, Bryant 8-12 5-7 21, Haase 1-3 2-2 4, Gravett 1-6 4-4 6. Totals 19-55 27-36 65.
Halftime: South Carolina 30-22. 3-Point Goals: USC-Upstate 7-28 (Hammond 3-4, Martin 1-1, White 1-2, Span 1-4, Mozone 1-5, Welch 0-2, Booker 0-4, Moore 0-6), South Carolina 0-17 (Bryant 0-1, Silva 0-2, Haase 0-2, Minaya 0-2, Lawson 0-2, Gravett 0-3, Campbell 0-5). Fouled Out: Zink, Span. Rebounds: USC-Upstate 27 (Moore 9), South Carolina 47 (Gravett 12). Assists: SC-Upstate 9 (Moore, White 3), South Carolina 6 (Gravett 3). Total Fouls: USC-Upstate 27, South Carolina 14.