The South Carolina men's basketball team continued its undefeated start to the 2023-24 season with a 74-64 victory over Virginia Military Institute on Monday night at Colonial Life Arena.
The Gamecocks' intensity on the defensive side of the ball and ability to score in transition played important roles in the win, despite the team's inefficient shooting performance.
"We didn't have our best stuff, that's for sure, but we survived and move forward," head coach Lamont Paris said.
South Carolina placed intense pressure on VMI throughout the game, which eventually led to 10 steals. The Gamecocks' rapid movement across the court following these turnovers allowed its players to put themselves in ideal scoring positions, especially close to the basket, as 32 of its 74 points were scored in the paint.
Junior guard Jacobi Wright, who finished the game with 9 points and two assists, said the team focused on making shots from close range when it could not convert on long-range shots.
"Coach keeps telling us to attack the rim, try to get to the free throw line and just finish strong at the rim when our shots aren't falling,” Wright said.
The Gamecocks had trouble getting shots to fall all over the court, as it finished the game with a mere 35.2% shooting percentage.
But the sheer number of shooting opportunities South Carolina generated from offensive rebounds — a metric it had a 21-11 advantage in over VMI — allowed the team to maintain a lead throughout the game.
Graduate forward B.J. Mack contributed greatly to the Gamecocks' rebounding prowess, as he led the team with 13 boards, including seven defensive rebounds. He was one of three players to score double-digit points, leading the team with 17.
The Gamecocks also struggled to keep possession of the ball, committing nine total turnovers, which helped the Keydets stay in the game.
Despite this, the Gamecocks came up with enough stops on defense to keep the lead manageable, most notably over a three-minute stretch midway through the first half. During this stretch, South Carolina kept VMI scoreless for six straight possessions while scoring 11 unanswered points to turn a 14-11 deficit into a 22-14 lead.
The Gamecocks' defense held firm despite multiple comeback attempts, holding VMI to a 42.4% shooting percentage over both halves.
Improving on defense has been a focal point of the team's strategy early in the season, Mack said.
“From the preseason, just being able to lock in on our matchups, I feel like that's one big thing that we have been improving in a lot game by game and day by day in practice,” Mack said.
The victory puts the Gamecocks at 3-0 on the young season, marking the team's first 3-0 start since the 2019-20 season.
South Carolina will return to action in an Arizona Tip-Off matchup against the DePaul Blue Demons (0-2) on Friday. The game will begin at 11:30 p.m. and will be broadcasted on the CBS Sports Network.