Conway, S.C., November 19, 2017 – South Carolina coach Frank Martin said the one thing he learned about his team during the Puerto Rico Tip-Off at Myrtle Beach is that his players “have some fight in them.”
The Gamecocks demonstrated that on Sunday during their final-round game against Western Michigan, using an eight-minute span near the start of the second half to deliver a furious knockout blow on the way to a 79-66 victory.
With 17:36 left in the game, South Carolina held a slim 40-39 lead. Then the Gamecocks turned up the defensive pressure, and eight minutes and seven Western Michigan turnovers later their lead had ballooned to 57-40.
“We lost the game in that eight-minute stretch,” Western Michigan coach Steve Hawkins said. “We played it even the rest of the way, but we did not meet their intensity during those eight minutes.”
For the game, South Carolina (4-1) harassed the Broncos (2-3) into 22 turnovers, and scored 28 points of those giveaways. Ten of the turnovers were committed by WMU senior point guard Thomas Wilder, who threw the ball away only twice through the first four games of the season.
South Carolina coach Frank Martin gave much of the credit for that defensive performance to freshman forward Justin Minaya, who was given the task of guarding Wilder.
“Justin is way beyond his years in maturity,” Martin said. “He was real good on the ball. He was able to do the best job of keeping (Minaya) in front of him.”
The Gamecocks had four players score in double figures, led by Chris Silva and Wesley Myers with 14 points each. They also outrebounded WMU 23-10 in the second half, and allowed the Broncos to grab only one offensive board after intermission.
Despite his turnover problems, Wilder still finished with a team-high 15 points for WMU, giving him a total of 65 points for the three-game tournament.
Sunday’s victory was a solid closing performance in the tournament for the Gamecocks, who appeared lackadaisical in Thursday’s 69-65 opening-round loss to Illinois State before turning around a day later and dominating UTEP 80-56 in the second round.
“That first game was the worst effort one of my teams has given since my first year at South Carolina (in 2012-13),” Martin said. “As bad as were in that game, we had fight to figure it out after that. The mindset and effort we played with after that, we fought and found the resolve to give ourselves a chance to win.”