By Josh Hyber/Photo by Allen Sharpe
If Wednesday night’s matchup between South Carolina and Appalachian State at Colonial Life Arena was an initiation process, the Gamecocks officially became the newest member of modern-day basketball. A team historically set on establishing a post presence, the garnet and black scrapped the interior play and let fire from distance.
SC set a season-high for 3s in the first half alone on almost 67 percent shooting.
Fast break? Didn’t matter. The home team took a page from the Houston Rockets playbook and took a 3. Wide-open lane to the basket? Didn’t matter. Odds are the Gamecocks passed around the perimeter and took a 3.
Welcome to The New Age.
Te’a Cooper and Doniyah Cliney connected on three each from long range in the first half and led No. 22 South Carolina (5-4) to a 80-50 rout over the Mountaineers (5-4). In all, the Gamecocks finished with a season-high 14 3s.
“We work in practice on moving the ball around to just keep finding the open person,” Gamecock guard Doniyah Cliney said.
Bianca Cuevas-Moore led the Gamecocks with 12 points in just 12 minutes. Alexis Jennings had 10, while Cooper, Cliney and Grissett each had nine. Grissett also led the team with seven rebounds. Forward Mikiah Herbert Harrigan, who started after coming off the bench in the Gamecocks’ previous three games, scored eight.
South Carolina could have set up ball racks around the 3-point arc and had a team-wide long-distance shooting competition, minus the time restriction of an All-Star Weekend contest.
“When we take the type of shots that we’re familiar with, when it’s like that, when we have good ball movement, people’s feet are set … we’ll shoot better from the field,” Staley said. “… I thought we were relaxed and just took what was given to us. We moved the ball and I think we got a good balance of going inside and shooting from the outside.”
Herbert Harrigan scored the game’s first basket then had two blocks on the ensuing possession, the second of which came on an emphatic swat that sailed into the fifth row. “Kiki’s a beast,” one fan sitting courtside beamed.
Cooper and Cliney — who would have made the final in our imaginary 3-point contest — then hit back-to-back 3s and the home team was off and running with an 8-0 lead just two minutes into regulation.
Jennings then got into the action, hitting a jumper and then bullying down two defenders before putting in a layup to give the Gamecocks a 12-6 lead. Cooper and Cliney then hit another set of back-to-back 3s to extended it to 18-8 with 4:59 to go in the quarter.
Bianca Cuevas-Moore, playing with the normal brace and sleeve on her left knee she has been playing with after not wearing it during warmups, sank the teams fifth and sixth 3s to push it to 11 at 25-14.
Cooper hit her third 3 three minutes into the second quarter to give the Gamecocks a 32-18 lead before Harris joined the club with her first to make it 37-18 with 5:47 to play.
The Mountaineers called timeout.
It didn’t matter. Cliney hit her third 3 — a bank, for good measure — with the shot clock expiring to extend the lead to 40-18.
“I really liked the ball movement. It’s more like what we practice,” Gamecock head coach Dawn Staley said. “Those extra passes. Those skip passes moving the defense, having more than one or two passes, really breaks a defense down and we get ahead in the possession. And then we don’t let up.”
The barrage continued.
Double digits were reached when Bianca Jackson connected 2:55 before halftime, number 11 came from Destanni Henderson just a minute later and number 13 came from Cuevas-Moore with 58 seconds to go.
For good measure, Harris and Cuevas-Moore each hit another in the third.
Though the team didn’t surpass its season-high for 3-point attempts (30 against Drake on Nov. 24), it didn’t need to because the ones they took went in. The team’s lead stayed in the plus-20 range from the third quarter on out.
“We just felt like we needed to bounce back, you know, we lost a couple of games, and I think today was a good game for us so we could get back into the normal things we’re used to doing,” Cuevas-Moore said.