COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) — South Carolina coach Frank Martin figured shooting would be a team strength this year.
“Then the season hit, and we couldn’t make a shot to save our lives,” Martin said.
That wasn’t a problem Saturday, as Jair Bolden scored 19 points and the revived Gamecocks defeated Texas A&M 81-67 on Saturday afternoon.
The Gamecocks made 16-of-30 of their 3-point attempts (53.3%), in keeping the Aggies at arms’ length for most of the second part of the second half. The Aggies, one of the nation’s worst 3-point shooting teams, finished 3-of-14 from 3-point range (21.4%), in failing to keep up with South Carolina down the stretch.
Bolden made 5 of 7 from distance, including 3 of 4 in the second half. He also finished with six assists, second only to teammate Maik Kotsar’s game-high seven. The team’s 16 3-pointers tied a school record.
“We don’t win without Jair’s efforts,” Martin said. “With his shot making, his play making against a team that’s difficult because of (A&M’s) three-quarter press defense. It doesn’t allow you to play in structure, it makes you play in space and makes you make decisions, and for the most part we made pretty good decisions.”
The Gamecocks (10-7, 2-2 SEC) led 39-33 at halftime thanks to 10 points each from Justin Minaya and Bolden over the first 20 minutes. The Aggies (8-8, 2-3) briefly grabbed a lead at 49-48 nearly midway through the second half before the Gamecocks reclaimed the lead for good, primarily thanks to the long shot (10 of 18 from the 3-point line in the second half).
“They play good defense, but it’s a scheme we practiced against and coach prepared us for,” Bolden said. “We knew they were going to plug the gaps in the paint and (make us) make extra passes. From one game to the next, we have talented guys who can play well and step up. When coach calls my number, I’m ready.”
Minaya added 18 points and Jermaine Couisnard chipped in 17 for the Gamecocks, and South Carolina also held a 38-27 rebounding edge.
“Half of their shots were from the 3-point line, and we did an incredibly poor job contesting those shots,” A&M first-year coach Buzz Williams said. “And they outrebounded us by 15 (23 to 8) in the second half.”
One sequence with a little more than seven minutes remaining summed up South Carolina’s effort: The Gamecocks missed five consecutive shots, two jump shots and three layups, on the same possession, but followed each with an offensive rebound. Couisnard rewarded his teammates’ hustle with a 3-pointer from the right corner to cap the flurry of misses and rebounds, and lift South Carolina to a 63-55 lead.
Josh Nebo led the Aggies with 18 points.
South Carolina: Following three consecutive losses, including to Stetson just prior to opening SEC play, the Gamecocks are on a bit of roll in league play, in following up an 81-78 home victory over No. 10 Kentucky on Wednesday with Saturday’s triumph on the road, in which they pulled away late.
Texas A&M: The Aggies need to win their home games if they’re to have any hope of a postseason berth, but this week they dropped contests in Reed Arena to LSU (in overtime on Tuesday) and then Saturday in a game they were favored to win.
STAT OF THE DAY
The Gamecocks shot better from outside the 3-point line (16 of 30) than inside it (13 of 30).
South Carolina’s Keyshawn Bryant collected a block and steal on back-to-back possessions a minute into the game, in setting the Gamecocks’ frenzied pace the rest of the way.
HE SAID IT
“When I grow up, I want to be like him.”
Buzz Williams on Frank Martin, whom he considers a mentor.
The Gamecocks stay on the road at Auburn on Wednesday.
The Aggies play at Missouri on Tuesday.
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