The South Carolina Gamecocks thought they would be about 1,400 miles from home this week. Instead, they basically are enjoying a homecourt advantage.
The Gamecocks (2-0) open the relocated 2017 Puerto Tip-off at Myrtle Beach at 11:30 a.m. ET Thursday against Illinois State (1-0) at the HTC Center on the campus of Coastal Carolina University. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2.
While a 150-mile bus ride and a supportive crowd certainly makes things easier for the Gamecocks than a lengthy flight, South Carolina coach Frank Martin’s focus is on the team’s early start time, especially coming on the heels of two games in four days to open the season.
“We originally were going to leave (Columbia) Wednesday morning,” said Martin, whose team posted a 78-60 home victory over Western Michigan on Monday and won at Wofford 73-52 last Friday. “But with us playing at 11:30 a.m., we decided to leave Tuesday night so we could get our Wednesday practice in as early as possible and get the minds and bodies ready for 11:30.”
Three players are averaging double-digit scoring for the Gamecocks, led by senior guard Frank Booker (13 ppg), a graduate transfer from Oklahoma who is among eight new players for a South Carolina team that made it to the Final Four last season. Junior forward Chris Silva is averaging 10 rebounds per game.
Illinois State counters with junior guard Keyshawn Evans, who scored a career-high 28 points in the Redbirds’ 98-87 season-opening loss to Florida Gulf Coast after averaging just 5.8 ppg last season. Junior forward Milik Yarbrough, a transfer from Saint Louis University, had 10 assists, setting a record for assists in an ISU debut.
However, the Redbirds struggled defensively against FGC, which scored 48 points in the paint and drew enough fouls to make 27 free throws.
“We made shots and big plays on the offensive end, but we didn’t dig in defensively,” ISU coach Dan Muller said. “That was the worst defensive game I may have ever seen in my entire life. I’m the coach and that’s on me. That was brutal.”
The second game of Thursday’s early session will see Boise State (2-0) take on UTEP (1-0) at 2 p.m. ET on ESPNU. Both teams have cruised to victory so far this season, with Boise defeating Eastern Oregon 104-65 and Southern Utah 90-69, while UTEP doubled up Louisiana 100-50.
The Broncos are led by guard Chandler Hutchison, who returned to Boise for his senior season after initially declaring for the NBA draft. Hutchison, who led the team in scoring (17.4 ppg) and rebounding (7.8) last season, demonstrated his versatility against Southern Utah with six rebounds and five assists on a night when he took only three shots.
“Chandler doesn’t even blink about shooting three shots,” Boise coach Leon Rice said. “That’s the kind of kid he is and the kind of team we have. … This team is hung up on the right things. That’s the beauty of this group. When you have a team like that, you can fight through some things and get a lot better.”
Meanwhile, UTEP could not have gotten off to a much better start this season, jumping out to a 32-0 lead against Louisiana. As a result, 14 players saw action in the game for the Miners, with Newcomers accounting for 56 of UTEP’s points.
“We’re pleased that we were able to get our young guys some quality minutes,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “We love all our new guys. We really think they can all play. We’re excited about this team.”