Gamecocks claw Eagles to win battle of the birds

South Carolina forward Dominique Archie goes for a layup as Winthrop forward Mantoris Robinson defends during the first half Sunday in Columbia.
South Carolina forward Dominique Archie goes for a layup as Winthrop forward Mantoris Robinson defends during the first half Sunday in Columbia.

COLUMBIA -- It shouldn't take much explanation for Winthrop coach Randy Peele to explain to his players what happened Sunday afternoon in South Carolina's 86-63 drubbing of the Eagles.

The Eagles lacked a little bit of everything from composure to defense to ball handling to shooting to rebounding.

His young team learned an early lesson.

"We've got 10 kids who are freshmen and sophomores," Peele said, "and it showed early. We lost our composure and got behind 21-0. We were three touchdowns behind and looking at a number."

Actually, it wasn't that bad. The Eagles fell behind 19-0 in the first eight minutes, missing their first nine shots and turning the ball over six times. The Eagles looked like the young team they are and will be for a while.

When the Gamecocks went up 11-0 and Peele called time, junior Mantoris Robinson got in the middle of the huddle and yelled as his teammates.

"We had the jitters," he said. "I was trying to get them to calm down and stay together."

But the Gamecocks added eight more points, before Byron Faison finally hit a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 19-3, a shot even the South Carolina fans cheered.

It was the start of a long afternoon.

The 86 points were the most allowed by the Eagles since giving up 96 in a win at VMI on Jan. 31, 2007. It was only the fourth time since the start of the 2005-06 season the Eagles have allowed more than 80.

Peele said he thought his team was prepared and ready to play, but it didn't show in the early going.

Winthrop's defense had to control former Chester star Devan Downey, and, Peele said, "we didn't."

Downey finished with 21 points, including six straight, when he split the Eagles with dribble drives three times at the end of the first half, to give the Gamecocks a 36-24 lead at the break.

The game plan was to make the Gamecocks win by making pull-up jumpers and 3-pointers. Peele wanted the Gamecocks to throw up at least 30 from behind the arc. South Carolina took 25 3-pointers and made only nine, but six of them came when it mattered most.

After the Eagles went to a zone and cut the lead to 38-31 with 17:20 to play, Zam Fredrick made three straight -- his only field goals of the game -- and Downey followed with three more, capping a 22-4 run that pushed the lead to 61-35 and the game out of reach.

During that run, the Eagles lost their composure again, turning the ball over six times in 10 possessions that allowed the Gamecocks to get into an offensive flow.

"It wasn't the 3-pointers," Downey said. "It was our defense. We had to pick up the intensity and we got the 3-pointers off turnovers and in transition."

First-year South Carolina coach Darrin Horn credited the defense, too, although the Eagles at times were able to drive into the lane with ease. They just didn't do it often enough.

"In the second half," Horn said, "we created a lot of stops with our defense. We had the game going at the pace we wanted."

And then there was the rebounding.

South Carolina's 48 rebounds, 14 more than the Eagles, were the most for a Winthrop opponent in at least three seasons, and the 23 offensive boards were the most during that time as well. Wisconsin, with 21 on Dec. 4, 2006, was the only other team in at least the past three seasons to have more than 20 offensive boards.

One cornerstone of Winthrop's success over the past 10 years has been rebounding. That wasn't there on Sunday.

One play summed up the intensity with which the Gamecocks played inside.

Even with his team up 27, Evaldas Baniulis ripped a rebound out of the hands of George Valentine on the baseline, drove and dunked.

Mike Holmes, the 6-7, 230-pound sophomore, was a man in the lane for the Gamecocks, scoring 14 points and grabbing 13 rebounds, seven on the offensive end. Dominque Archie added 10 rebounds and Baniulis nine.

"The rebounding," Peele said. "They had 23 offensive. It doesn't take a genius to figure it out."

Peele said he wasn't sure he could be too hard on his young team, that Sunday's outcome may be just part of what will be a long learning experience.

"We just didn't get out of the gate," he said. "I keep asking our guys 'how good do you want to be?' And I still think we can be good.

"I saw a lot of things we can fix with coaching and work, and I saw a team that never stopped fighting."

The Eagles have a quick turnaround. They play at Akron, Ohio, on Tuesday night, the second of four straight road games.