In their final non-conference contest of the year, South Carolina (10-3) defeated South Carolina State (4-10) 80-69 on Saturday afternoon at Colonial Life Arena. Four Gamecocks reached double figures in the effort, with senior forward Lakeem Jackson tallying 16 to lead the way.
Jackson's 16 points equaled a season-high and the forward grabbed eight boards as well. Earning his second start in a row, junior guard Brian Richardson scored 15 for his fifth straight double-digit scoring effort. Junior guard Brenton Williams recorded 14 and sophomore guard Damien Leonard added 10 points and a career-high eight rebounds in his first start of the season. Freshman forward Mindaugas Kacinas notched his third double-digit rebounding game with 10 and junior guard Eric Smith dished out seven assists.
Junior forward Matthew Hezekiah turned in game-highs of 24 points and 14 rebounds in the effort for the Bulldogs. Junior guard Adama Adams also scored in double figures, registering 12. South Carolina State did not hit a three pointer in the contest.
Hezekiah scored six of the first eight for the Bulldogs and the visitors jumped out early at 10-2 and held an advantage for more than half of the first half.
The Gamecocks finally took a lead at 21-19 with 7:20 remaining before halftime when Kacinas put back a Jackson miss. Hezekiah drained a jumper to put the Bulldogs back up 21-20, the last lead of the day for South Carolina State.
South Carolina scored eight unanswered to take control of the game. The spurt started with the first of Leonard's two 3s in the final five minutes of the half and ended with a drive to the basket by Smith. The run expanded the South Carolina advantage to seven at 28-21.
Kacinas scored on a tip in at the buzzer to send South Carolina to the locker room with a 37-29 upper hand.
Out of the gate in the second half, the Gamecocks scored on four of their first five possessions to claim a 45-33 lead, prompting the Bulldogs to take a timeout.
South Carolina stretched their lead to 13 at 50-37 just after the first media break of the half and the Bulldogs responded with an 11-4 run over the next 2:52 to cut the lead to six at 54-48.
With South Carolina State trying to rally, but getting no closer than six, the Gamecocks rattled off an 8-2 run to take a double-digit lead again. Williams scored two straight baskets, the second of which was a successful three-point play. Richardson hit his first 3 of the night on the next possession giving the Gamecocks a 12-point cushion at 67-55 with 6:41 on the clock.
On a pair of Richardson free throws, South Carolina took a 14-point lead, the largest of the game at 77-63. In the final 3:01 of the game, the Bulldogs could not get closer than nine and the Gamecocks recorded the 80-69 victory.
South Carolina starts conference play on Wed., Jan. 9, at 8 p.m. against Mississippi State. The game in Starkville, Miss., can be seen on ESPN3.