SPARTANBURG, SC – It shouldn’t have been a surprise to see South Carolina attempt 23 three-pointers Friday night at Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium. Frank Martin’s Gamecocks fired 68 shots from behind the arc through a pair of exhibition games.
But what was startling was how poorly the Wofford Terriers defended the Gamecocks’ gunners. Mike Young’s team had the third-best three-point defense in the Southern Conference last season, allowing opponents to shoot just 37 percent from outside.
South Carolina made 47.8 percent of its three-pointers in the first ever game at Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium Friday, coasting to a 73-52 win in front of a sellout crowd.
“(South Carolina) had two offensive rebounds that led to made three’s (early in the second half),” Young said. “We reference it all the time in practice that, the second shot typically hits the bottom of the barrel, because it’s being whipped back on to the perimeter for a rhythm jump shot.”
As the game went on, worrying about the Gamecocks taking and making three’s was like wondering if the sun was going to come up.
On the other end of the court, the Terriers — the SoCon’s top outside shooting team last year at 40.3 percent — made just six-of-19 shots from behind the arc in this game, a 31.6 percent clip.
But let’s not jump to conclusions about this Wofford team just yet — it was the Terriers first game after all, and in a brand-new home arena, and against a team coming off a Final Four. Perhaps Young’s team will improve it’s three-point shooting and defense.
For now, what’s clear is that this young team — which carries just one senior and returns three starters — is going to take time to mesh.
To even up its record and take out frustrations from the loss to South Carolina, Wofford hosted and thrashed Div. III Washington & Lee on Sunday, winning 103-66. The Terriers shot a better from outside, making 43.5 percent, and defended the arc too, allowing the Generals to make just 35.3 percent of their shots from there.
Here’s what else we learned from Wofford’s loss to its Palmetto State brothers, and its win over the Generals:
Fletcher Magee led the way
Magee is one of the three starters that return for Wofford, and when his teammates — Cameron Jackson and Matthew Pegram — fell into foul trouble against USC, he took over.
The 6’4’’ junior from Orlando led all scorers with 17 points on Friday, and also grabbed three rebounds. He took a bunch of shots, going seven-of-17 from the floor, but he almost had to with Wofford’s other leaders in foul trouble and inexperienced players filling in.
Martin knew his defense had to key in on Magee early.
“Whenever [Wofford] did drive, we had to be very careful with [Nathan Hoover] and [Magee],” Martin said.
Hoover finished with nine points against South Carolina and eight points against Washington & Lee.
Against the Gamecocks, Wofford took its only lead of the game early in the first quarter when Magee sank a three-pointer. A preseason All-SoCon pick, he has scored in double digits in 47 straight games. Points come from Magee like heatwaves come off an Oklahoma blacktop. He’ll have a lot of say in which games Wofford wins and loses this year.
Against Washington & Lee, Magee scored 17 points on nine shots in 24 minutes.
Wofford’s youth showed
After Magee’s shot gave Wofford the lead Friday, the Gamecocks ripped off a 14-5 run. Wofford’s starters played admirably, but when both teams turned to their benches, the Terriers were very much outmatched.
Wofford’s bench scored just five points, while guys down the depth chart for Martin racked up 28 points.
It’s not just that Wofford’s bench didn’t score — the unit didn’t do much of anything else either. Out of the five players coming off the bench, they collectively came up with two rebounds, four assists, no steals, no blocks, six fouls and five turnovers. As a unit, the backups went two-of-nine on field goal attempts.
And all of those assists came from freshman Storm Murphy.
“Bodies. Big, strong people,” Young said when asked what changed for Wofford when they lost the lead. “Two fouls on Cameron Jackson hurt us, because he’s such a critical part of what we do. We had a couple of kids playing who are going to be really good players for us, but maybe not ready for that moment.”
The bench played much better — as expected — against the Div. III Generals. The unit scored 42 points, led by 12 from Tray Hollowell. Murphy tallied eight points, four assists and four rebounds.
Former mid-major players will have big roles for South Carolina
The Gamecocks had four players score in double digits, including former mid-major players Frank Booker and Wesley Myers.
Booker, who spent last season at FAU, finished with 12 points while former Maine and Niagara guard Myers had 10 points, three rebounds and two assists off the bench in 17 minutes of play.
Booker, who shot 37 percent from outside last season at FAU, had a hand in leading the Gamecocks by making three-of-five three-pointers. He started for the Gamecocks and Myers played 17 minutes off the bench.
Former Delaware guard Kory Holden’s first outing as a Gamecock went a little bit differently. In 2015-16 for the Blue Hens, Holden averaged 17.7 points and 4.2 assists per game. On Friday, Martin had the redshirt junior on a short leash and Holden finished with two points, two rebounds and two assists in eight minutes.
The 6’2’’ junior from Salisbury, Maryland was ESPN’s No. 1 transfer target during the 2016 offseason and picked South Carolina over Baylor and Virginia Tech after leaving Delaware.
He was the second player off the bench for the Gamecocks against the Terriers, but was pulled quickly each time he picked up a foul. After his second, late in the first half, he got a stern talking-to from Martin.
It’s worth noting that Holden hasn’t played in a game in nearly two years and had knee surgery during the year he was mandated to sit out by the NCAA. As the season goes along, he could ease back into the scoring role he had at Delaware. The SEC should be aware of him.
Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium is really nice
The place was packed, the student section was jumping, the fan gimmicks during timeouts were fun and the arena sounded great. Everyone who was in the building seemed genuinely excited to be there.
Even Martin had praise for the brand-new building, made of 895 tons of steel.
“Great night for our state, great night for Wofford,” Martin said. “I’m so glad we were able to come down here and do this.”
And Martin didn’t have to come there. Power 5 teams rarely travel to face mid-major teams on opening night. Out of the 11 SEC teams who faced mid-major teams on Friday, 10 of them did so in the confines of their own arena.
Wofford will also host Georgia Tech and Harvard in Spartanburg this season.
Richardson Indoor isn’t big – with a capacity of just 3,400 – but it might be one of the most attractive gyms that the mid-major ranks have to offer. And if Wofford wins in it, a unique atmosphere could be created.
Mike Young is committed to the development of Keve Aluma
A whole lot of people are about to be introduced to Keve Aluma.
He’s a 6’9’’ freshman who hails from the Eastern Shore of Maryland, attending Stephen Decatur High School in Berlin — just outside of Ocean City and about 35 miles away from UMES. When Aluma committed to Wofford last September, he picked them over UMES, UTEP, Howard, Coppin State, Loyola (MD), UMBC, Stony Brook and Canisus.
It goes without saying that Aluma — much like fellow Eastern Shore native Kory Holden — flew under the radar as a prospect. For Young, Aluma was a diamond in the rough and he plans to take advantage of what other schools missed out on.
“He’s going to be really good,” Young said. “We are big fans of that young man and are thrilled that he’s with us.”
Aluma was the first player off the bench for the Terriers on Friday, and finished by corralling just one rebound in 10 minutes of play. Young admitted a moment like that — going against a Final Four team in a brand-new gym — may have been too big for the freshman, but he seemed to committed to giving Aluma plenty of playing time this season.
“He wasn’t ready for that – I don’t know many (freshmen) that are – but that’s going to turn for him rather quickly,” Young said. “He hasn’t played a lot of basketball. He’s got big eyes and he wants to learn. He works very hard. He’s got great hands and the guy can catch anything. He is going to be a really, really good post player around here and it’s going to come sooner rather than later.”
Young stuck with Aluma against Washington & Lee. The young big was the second Terrier off the bench, played 13 minutes and notched four rebounds and nine points on three shots.
Aluma has only been playing competitive basketball since his freshman year of high school, but has hoops in his bloodline. His father Peter played for the Sacramento Kings and Harlem Globetrotters, and starred at Liberty University where he racked up 1,715 points, 682 rebounds and 366 blocks from 1994 to 1997. He still holds the Big South career record for blocked shots.
If the younger Aluma grows into the player that Young hopes for, maybe he’ll leave Spartanburg in a few years with some records of his own.