COLUMBIA -- Say this for South Carolina basketball -- if the Gamecocks don't win many games this year, they'll at least be fun to watch.
USC unveiled its new-look lineup and the offense that went with it, a frenetic run-and-gun style that left S.C. State gasping in a 92-67 win Friday. Spurred by Chester native Devan Downey and the rest of the Gamecocks' guard-heavy roster, USC spurted to a 30-point lead in the first half and cruised to the finish.
"Me and Zam (Fredrick), we talked before the game and said we were going to lead us," said Downey, who got his first official action since transferring from Cincinnati two years ago. "We were trying to make a change and tell people, you know, just believe in us."
The night wasn't perfect -- some of the Gamecocks' problems from their exhibition win over Guilford earlier in the week were still present. Specifically, poor rebounding and success in running set plays hindered USC's game plan.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
But nobody really minded considering the speed, quickness and transition the Gamecocks displayed so prominently. The game wasn't 30 seconds old when Downey swiped the ball and went coast-to-coast for a lay-up, paving the way for a 55-point first half, the most by a USC team since 1995.
It also matched or beat the Gamecocks' total points in 11 games last year.
"We had that entertaining run there in the first half where we were raining jump shots and in general, having fun," coach Dave Odom said. "I really think we can build on the fact that we played well and the crowd supported us."
Downey, Fredrick, Dominique Archie, Brandis Raley-Ross and freshman Mike Holmes started and quickly set the tempo, Downey stripping Jessie Burton after the tip and running downcourt for an uncontested bunny. The Gamecocks (1-0) began hounding the Bulldogs (0-1) on each possession and leaped to a 13-2 lead.
It stretched to 41-11 before USC cooled off, Fredrick taking over the point when Downey rested and Holmes sitting for the rest of the half after picking up two quick fouls. The Gamecocks were never in danger of losing their momentum and went into the locker room ahead 55-28 after Downey beat the buzzer with a 3-pointer.
"I think (the first play) kind of got me going," said Downey, who finished with 24 points, the highest for a Gamecock newcomer since all-SEC guard Larry Davis hit 26 in 1995. "It felt real good to be playing again."
Following three straight steals with 12 minutes to go, Downey stroked a wide-open 3-pointer and the ragged Bulldogs called timeout, down 74-39. USC got everybody on the bench some minutes for the duration and went into a quick turnaround before Monday's game hosting The Citadel.
But even with the game clearly in hand, there wasn't much relaxation. Freshman Sam Muldrow was stripped by Thomas Bookman with eight minutes to go and Bookman sprinted downcourt for what should have been an untouched two points.
Muldrow sprinted after him, timed the shot and pinned it against the backboard, drawing a standing ovation from the crowd.
"I just tried to keep moving," said the freshman, who had four blocks. "I knew I had to turn it up."
The game also appeared to be more physical than 34 combined fouls would suggest. Muldrow, Holmes (twice) and Evka Baniulis had to change jerseys after blood got on their originals.
"Just some nicks," Odom said. "I think some of it was from the other team."
USC was out-rebounded 48-39 but had 12 steals (Downey led with three) and forced 22 turnovers. The Gamecocks also proved they were much better than last year's season-opener, a 55-52 win over S.C. State.
For the first game, a successful test.
Now they just have to hold it through the next 30 games.
"Two areas I was concerned about was our inability to defensively rebound and control the boards we needed to, particularly in the second half," Odom said. "But we'll work on that."
• NOTES: Walk-on sophomore Robert Wilder has joined the squad. Wilder, a 6-foot-1, 185-pound guard from Chapin, played less than a minute ... As expected, sophomore center Mitchell Carter did not dress and had his left foot in a walking boot. The diagnosis is a deep bone bruise on his ankle and he's week-to-week.