After a furious second-half rally from the visitors, South Carolina (7-6) grinded out an 82-75 win tonight over South Carolina State (4-9) at Colonial Life Arena as the Gamecocks shot 50 percent from the field for the second straight game.
Four Gamecocks ended the night in double figures as senior Brenton Williams led all scorers with 19 points on an efficient 6-7 from the field and 2-3 from 3-point range. Freshman Demetrius Henry recorded his first career double-double with 10 points and a career-high 11 rebounds. Senior forward Matthew Hezekiah led the Bulldogs with 18 points and five rebounds, while fellow senior Theron Stephens added 15 points.
Carolina opened the game on a 5-0 run after a jumper from Williams and three points from Duane Notice. The Bulldogs were able to pull within two at 6-4 after a Devin Joint tipped in a missed jumper from Hezekiah, but Notice responded for the Gamecocks with his sixth point in the first four minutes.
Palmer answered for SC State with a 3 of his own, but Williams connected from 3 on the other end for the Gamecocks as they took a 12-7 lead. That 3-pointer started a 9-1 run for home team that Williams capped off 43rd and 44th consecutive made free throws as he pushed South Carolina's lead to 18-8 with just over 12 minutes to play.
Following Johnson's first 3 of the game just under two minutes later, Laimonas Chatkevicius began to impose himself inside as he scored on three-straight possessions as Notice earned three of his career-high eight assists during the stretch.
With 1:31 left in the half, a quick 5-0 run after a jumper from Notice and Williams' second three of the game, the Gamecocks held their largest lead of the half of 15.
The Bulldogs though turned up the pressure on the final possession after getting two points back. Darrion Eastmon picked off a pass attempt from Notice in the backcourt and dished it to Darryl Palmer for the lay-up on the break.
South Carolina held a 44-33 lead at the break after shooting 15-29 (51.7 percent) from the field and going 6-12 from behind the arc.
SC State continued its late first-half run into the second as Stephens hit back-to-back 3s in the first minute and a half to cut the deficit to 44-39. After a pair of free throws from Sindarius Thornwell three minutes in, the Bulldogs went on a 6-0 run, punctuated by Joint dunking a missed shot to cut to the game to two at 50-48 with 15:23 on the clock.
Despite seeing the game cut to one a minute later, the Gamecocks were able to maintain the lead until the Bulldogs came up with another 6-0 run to tie-up the game at 60-60 with 7:02 to play. On the ensuing possession though, Notice found Thornwell open on the right side where he drained his lone 3-pointer on the night.
With SC State trying to get momentum back with the score at 70-65 with under four minutes remaining, Johnson found an opening in the lane and split two defenders as he drove to the basket for a left-handed lay-in as he was fouled. The junior converted the free throw to push the lead to eight. He finished the night with 17 points.
The Gamecocks sealed their fourth-straight win as they hit 9-12 from the free throw line during the final minutes.
South Carolina went 25-50 (50 percent) from the field and 7-15 (46.7 percent) from the 3-point line, while SC State shot 29-65 (44.6 percent) from the field and 5-20 (25 percent) from 3.
The Gamecocks head to No. 12/13 Florida on Jan. 8 as they open the SEC season. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET on Comcast Sports Southeast.