Michael Carrera provided the early spark, LaShay Page brought them back in the second half, and Brenton Williams put it away in the end as South Carolina overcame a 17 point deficit early in the second half to come away with an 82-75 win over Wisconsin-Milwaukee Sunday afternoon in Frank Martin's official debut as coach.
Last year it would have been over at halftime. It’s a new era now.
As was the case much of last year South Carolina saw its opponent come into the Colonial Life Arena and sink shot after shot in the first half while the Gamecocks couldn’t hit the ocean if they were on the beach. Wisconsin-Milwaukee, led by Jordan Aaron, rained down three after three the entire first half, eight to be exact, to take a 38-23 lead into the locker room. Carolina stormed back in the second half to force overtime and eventually claim an 82-75 win in Frank Martin’s coaching debut at Carolina.
“Good win for us,” Martin said. “I’m real proud seeing our kids fight back and figure out a way to get this win. I felt going into this game that they were pretty good. The worst thing about early season basketball is the unknown factor. You play against teams where you don’t know their players. Their point guard is pretty good and when they get their two guard back they are going to be difficult team to play against. Their whole front line is experienced and they shoot it.”
LaShay Page scored 17 of his 19 points in the second half, Michael Carrera had a double-double in his collegiate debut, and Brenton Williams connected on all eight of his free throw attempts in overtime to lead the charge. Milwaukee’s Jordan Aaron scored a game-high 28 points, connecting on seven three-pointers, but missed his final four three-point attempts down the stretch.
“First half I was real anxious,” Page said. “Instead of letting the game come to me I was trying to go get it. Coach told me to let the game come to me and I picked it up a little in the second half.”
Carrera was a bright spot early on in the game. He had two offensive rebounds and putbacks as Carolina jumped out to an early 6-5 lead. Both teams would heat up over the next five minutes of play as Carolina would get balanced scoring, but a pair of James Haarsma three-pointers helped keep UWM in front and the Panthers would explode the rest of the half as Carolina went ice cold. UWM closed the half on a 22-9 run to finish the half, capped off by a pair of Jordan Aaron three-pointers in the final minute. UWM hit eight three-pointers in the first half with Carolina missing all eight of their attempts. Martin told the team at halftime to keep battling and eventually the game would come back to them.
“They were on fire,” Page said. “They hit a lot of great, tough shots. He told us basketball is a game of runs and as long as we keep plugging away at the lead we’d be in position to win in the end. When the game went to overtime we pulled it out.”
Page tried to bring Carolina back early in the second half by himself. He scored nine of the first 11 points as the Gamecocks opened up with a 13-2 run to trim the lead to four. UWM, as they would do all afternoon, answered with a big three and 11 straight points to stretch the lead out to 15 points and seemed poised to pull away, led by Aaron.
Carolina would make a run to trim the lead inside 10 and the lead would remain in that range until Carolina cut it to 63-58, but Theirno Niang seemingly ended the game with a three-pointer to give the Panthers a 66-58 lead with 4:03 left. However, that would be all the Panthers would score in regulation as Carolina fought to within two with under a minute to play, and had a chance to win it when Mindaugas Kacinas was fouled shooting a three with 19 seconds lef. The freshman calmly made the first two, but missed the third. Page came up with the loose-ball and Carolina called timeout, but Smith would turn the ball over with less than a second left and the game headed to overtime.
In overtime, Smith went out with cramps and Williams came in and stole the show. Williams scored 12 of the 16 points in overtime to pull out the win as Carolina never trailed in the OT period.
“Brenton’s a wonderful kid,” Martin said. “Defensively he’s not as solid as those other guys are, but he’s fearless on offense. It’s feast or famine with him. He’s going to shoot some balls where you say ‘oh, my God.’ We don’t win without him down the stretch there.”
Carrera’s finished with 17 points and a game-high 15 rebounds to get the double-double, providing the Gamecocks with high energy and intensity.
“You have to play through your strengths and be who you are,” Martin said. “Mike’s biggest strength is his passion, his biggest weakness is his passion. The thing is he will mature as a player and understand how not to allow that passion to keep you away from being on task with what your team is trying to do. There were certain times where he was so wrapped up in the moment that he didn’t listen and wasn’t able to get to the next play.”
Mindaugas was right behind Carrera with 13 rebounds as the freshmen duo nearly outrebounded the entire Panther team by themselves. Of the 28 combined rebounds, 13 were on the offensive end.
“Extremely proud,” Martin said of their performance. “Two kids playing in their first ever Division I basketball game, and to take that kind of pride in something they know we were bothered with as a staff. That’s what won us the game, the offensive rebounding. That’s who we are and part of our personality and its going to be a staple of South Carolina basketball.”
Aaron’s 28 points led all scorers, while Haarsma added 14, and Niang had nine. Page’s 19 lead a quartet of Gamecocks that finished in double-figures. Carrera had 17, Williams 14, and Lakeem Jackson finished with 12.
“I think it gives us something to build on,” Jackson said. “It showed some things that we messed up so we can go back to practice and correct those so we can play an entire 40-minute game.”
Carolina returns Friday night when they host Morgan State in a 7:00 tip.