By Josh Hyber/Photo by Allen Sharpe
Bryce Moore took advantage of an Hassani Gravett turnover just two minutes into regulation, swiping the loose ball, taking it 55 feet and getting fouled on a long-leaping layup attempt. South Carolina guard Frank Booker prevented the score, but the Western Michigan guard swished two ensuing free-throws.
Exit Gravett, the Gamecock starting point guard.
Enter Kory Holden — a transfer to South Carolina from Delaware — who introduced himself to Colonial Life Arena on Monday night with a jumper 21 seconds later. The basket, and Holden’s six first-half points, didn’t just wake up Gamecock fans, it woke up the man he replaced.
Despite two turnovers and, at times, lackadaisical defense, Gravett led the home team with 15 points — on 4-of-5 shooting and 4-of-4 from the charity stripe — in the Gamecocks (2-0) 78-60 victory over the Broncos (1-1).
Center Chris Silva provided a steady presence, finishing with 10 points and 10 rebounds in 21 minutes while Booker finished with 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting. Forward Maik Kotsar added 10 points and six rebounds.
Gravett said after the game he knew he had to “let go” of his shaky first-half performance.
“I knew I was going to be full of energy for the second,” he said. “I just tried to come out and help out my team the best I could.”
He did just that, scoring 12 points in the final 20 minutes.
“I got frustrated because I got in foul trouble early,” Gravett said. “But when I was on the bench, I was watching some of the things they were doing. They were kind of just repeating the same plays over and over. When I got back in the game I was able to pick out which play they were running and be able to talk to my teammates and call out whatever they were about to do.”
The 6-foot-2 redshirt junior took advantage of his second-half start, finding forward Justin Minaya on a cut to the basket early on. The freshman was fouled on the play but hit one of two free-throws to give the Gamecocks a 42-31 lead.
Gravett kept dishing, but also kept getting beat off the dribble.
Four minutes into the second half, Bronco guard Thomas Wilder blew by Gravett and was fouled by Minaya. On cue, the point guard was taken out, and Martin let his point guard know his frustration as he trotted back to the bench.
In came guard Wes Myers, who right away air-balled a runner.
Martin turned around.
Out of the locker room tunnel came Holden, who assisted on a David Beatty lay-in moments later that gave the Gamecocks a 53-38 lead seven minutes in to the second half.
But then Gravett returned and found his groove.
He sank two free-throws to extend the SC lead to what was then a game-high 17 points at 55-38. A minute and three second later he hit a 3-pointer to extend it to 58-41. Two minutes and 13 second after that — at the 9:58 mark — came another trey, and then another with 5:35 to go in regulation to push the lead back to 17 at 69-52.
But as much as Gravett excelled in the final half, his night couldn’t have started any more differently.
Early on it was Holden who had the hot hand. The player SC head coach Frank Martin said “toyed with” former Gamecocks’ Sindarius Thornwell and Duane Notice in practices last season, had six points in nine minutes on 3-of-5 shooting.
“I’m a big believer that you look at history to see how things are probably going to work out,” Martin said earlier this season. “And if you look at my history with sit-out players in the past, they’ve had a lot of success from day one on the court. I think it’ll be the same way with (Kory).”
But at the end of the night it was the veteran Gravett who led the team to its first home win of the season. It was Gravett who the Gamecocks turned to when a once 17-point lead dipped to 10 in the second half.
It was Gravett who Martin said showed growth and led his team to the victory.
“When we played Virginia Tech, I asked Hassani to sub in, but, on purpose, I didn’t tell him for who. He had no idea who he was going in for, so he sat him back down, and I drilled him the next day,” Martin said. “That’s responsibility. He wants to lead. If he didn’t want to lead, I wouldn’t be on him. He wants to lead, so I’ve got to give him responsibility and hold him accountable every opportunity I have.
“He showed a lot of growth today … Last year, he probably pouts and probably tries to change the channel and disengage from the game. I think you saw the way he played in the second half. He engaged. He obviously paid attention to what was said and paid attention to the game.
“It’s not just because he made 3s. He ran our team.”