The South Carolina men's basketball team defeated the Grand Canyon Antelopes 75-68 Sunday night in a back-and-forth game to win the Cactus Division of the Arizona Tip-Off tournament.
The Gamecocks defeated DePaul on Friday night to advance championship game against Grand Canyon and beat VMI earlier in the week in a non-bracketed tournament game at home.
The main key to success for South Carolina in the tournament was its intense defensive pressure, which held the three opponents to a combined 40.89% from the field.
The Gamecocks' aggressivenes on the defensive side of the ball led to 13 Antelope turnovers and just 39.22% shooting from the field in the championship game.
South Carolina's offense had some ups and downs during the week. The Gamecocks shot just 35.21% from the field in the first game against VMI but capitalized on 21 offensive rebounds and 16 takeaways for second chance scoring opportunities that helped the team win 74-64.
Graduate student forward B.J. Mack contributed heavily to South Carolina's effort on the glass, grabbing 13 rebounds to go along with his 17 points and 3 steals in an all-around performance.
South Carolina shot the ball more efficiently in the next game against DePaul, improving to a 47.06% field goal percentage, but its 17 turnovers kept the game close. The Gamecocks would hold on to beat the Blue Demons by winning the rebounding battle 38-29 and making shots when they mattered the most.
Junior guard Meechie Johnson led all Gamecocks in scoring with 24, using his quickness and high-level dribble moves to create open looks near the basket.
Ball movement was the focal point of the South Carolina's offense in the first half in the championship game against Grand Canyon as 10 of the Gamecocks' first 11 made baskets came off of assists. South Carolina also shot the best it had all week on Sunday, converting 54% from the field and 41.18% from 3-point range.
Fouls were the main weakness for the Gamecocks in the finale. The team's 21 personal fouls led to the Antelopes getting 27 free throw attempts and converting 23 of those chances.
Grand Canyon got out to a 4-0 lead early in the final game, but the Gamecocks took the lead and held onto it until the last minute of the first half. South Carolina was up by 7 points at one point in the first period, but the Antelopes rallied back to take back the lead moments before halftime. Johnson did not let that advantage carry into halftime, however, as he used his shiftiness to create space from his defender and knock down an open mid-range shot that put the Gamecocks up 30-29 at halftime.
Mack had a game-high 27 points, knocked down four 3-pointers of his own and shot a perfect 9-9 from the free throw line. His 21 points in the second half ultimately allowed South Carolina to pull away and secure the championship.
The Gamecocks' offense was not the most efficient all week, and its physicality on the defensive side of the ball led to foul trouble, but the team's resilience and timely shot-making allowed it to stay undefeated through the first five games of the regular season for the first time since the 2016-17 season.
The bracket win in the Arizona Tip-Off tournament is also significant as the games were played at Diamond Desert Arena across the street from where the 2024 Final Four will take place at State Farm Stadium. The win streak also propelled South Carolina to receive three votes in Monday's AP men's basketball poll.
The Gamecocks will be back in Columbia to face the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Nov. 28 at 7 p.m. The game will be broadcasted on the SEC Network.