Gamecocks vs WKU men’s basketball score, highlights

South Carolina Gamecocks guard Meechie Johnson (5) plays Western Kentucky on Thursday, December 22, 2022.

South Carolina Gamecocks guard Meechie Johnson (5) plays Western Kentucky on Thursday, December 22, 2022.

After the South Carolina men’s basketball team scuffled through back-to-back losses, Thursday night’s battle against a high-powered Western Kentucky team seemed to be heading in a similar direction.

But the Gamecocks pushed the right buttons midway through the first half against the Hilltoppers, seizing a lead by halftime and defeating the Hilltoppers in a tight 65-58 contest.

Thursday’s victory was a high-quality win for the Gamecocks (6-6), who ranked 70 spots lower than the No. 124-ranked WKU (8-3) team on The Gamecocks will play just one more non-conference game, against Eastern Michigan on Dec. 30, before conference play opens in January.

Here’s what we learned from Thursday’s win.

Smaller lineup thrives

When the Gamecocks hit a rough patch during the two-game road trip to Washington, D.C., Paris switched to a smaller, speedier, guard-heavy lineup, which seemed to give USC a jolt.

Paris made the same change early on against the Hilltoppers, mixing and matching with guards Meechie Johnson, Chico Carter Jr., Jacobi Wright and Ford Cooper in the backcourt.

Just as they did in their previous two games, the Gamecocks got off to a rough start offensively against WKU, opening the contest with a multiple-minute scoring drought for the third-straight game. But midway through the first half, the speedier Gamecock group went on a 12-2 run to seize their first lead of the game against the Hilltoppers.

With big men Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk and Josh Gray struggling to consistently produce — especially on the offensive end — the smaller lineup could also be USC’s most effective one. On Thursday, USC’s guard trio of Johnson, Carter and Wright each played at least 25 minutes. Bosmans-Verdonk played only 12, and Gray played just six.

Meechie Johnson takes off

Star freshman GG Jackson has steadily been USC’s top scorer and rebounder this season, but the point guard Johnson might be just as imperative to the team’s success.

The Gamecocks seem to go as Johnson goes — and vice versa. They especially struggled in early season games while Johnson nursed an ankle injury.

On Thursday, Johnson started sizzling from beyond the arc in the first half, and he was a key reason why the Gamecocks were able to surge in front of the Hilltoppers.

Shooting at times a couple of feet behind the 3-point line with his trademark deep shots, Johnson made five 3-pointers in the first half and led all players on the court with 15 points. He blew past his career-high of 17 points in the second half, making another 3-pointer and finishing with 25 points.

Freshman Hankins-Sanford makes his mark

Forward Daniel Hankins-Sanford, a 6-foot-8 freshman from Charlotte, has played sparingly off the bench for the Gamecocks this season, averaging 8.3 minutes per game.

But with USC’s frontcourt struggling Thursday, Hankins-Sanford saw extended work.

Still a raw player who hasn’t found his scoring touch at the college level, Hankins-Sanford is also one of the team’s most aggressive rebounders, and he made a noticeable difference on the glass during his time on the court.

In 13 minutes, Hankins-Sanford pulled down eight rebounds — three of them offensive. He scored just two points on 1-of-4 shooting, but his prowess near the glass helped the Gamecocks extend possessions and take the lead.

Next four USC MBB games

Dec. 30: vs. Eastern Michigan, 7 p.m. (SEC Network Plus)

Jan. 3: at Vanderbilt, 7 p.m. (SEC Network)

Jan. 7: vs. Tennessee, 3:30 p.m. (SEC Network)

Jan. 10: at Kentucky, 7 p.m. (ESPN/ESPN2)

This story was originally published December 22, 2022 9:05 PM.

Michael Lananna specializes in Gamecocks athletics and storytelling projects for The State. Featured in Best American Sports Writing 2018, Lananna covered college baseball nationally before moving to Columbia in 2020. He graduated from the University of North Carolina in 2014 with a degree in journalism.
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