COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — After two straight losses left first-year South Carolina coach Frank Martin questioning his team's toughness and ability to execute on the offensive end, the Gamecocks came out and responded with their best half of basketball this season.
South Carolina shot 23 of 32 in the first half and sprinted to a 27-point halftime lead en route to a 91-74 victory over Jacksonville Friday night at the Colonial Life Arena.
Martin preached during the week how the team was struggling to communicate, especially on the offensive end.
"I really felt we put three consecutive very good practices together with tremendous enthusiasm, personality and discipline," Martin said. "I think that is why we played as well as we did the first 27 minutes of the game. When you prepare right you give yourself a chance to play right."
Michael Carrera and Brian Richardson spearheaded the first-half charge with 13 points apiece. Richardson was 4 of 5 from the field and connected on all three of his 3-point attempts as the Gamecocks were 6 of 7 from beyond the arc in the first half.
Carrera finished with 17 points and Richardson added a season-high 16 points. The Gamecocks' 57-point first-half outburst was their highest scoring half in 69 games. They were coming off a loss to Clemson on Sunday in which they scored 55 points in the game and had averaged only 60 points over a two-game losing streak.
"I felt calm and relaxed. I got a lot of shots up before the game and prepared very well," Richardson said. "It really helped with my shot."
The Dolphins scored the opening basket of the game but it was all South Carolina the remainder of the half. They went on an 11-2 run over the next 4 minutes to take an 11-4 lead. They went the final 15 minutes of the first half without a turnover and knocked down 19 of 27 shots.
Leading 29-18, Brenton Williams started a 28-12 finish to the half with consecutive 3-pointers with about eight minutes remaining to put the Gamecocks firmly in control. Things were going so well, even 6-foot-11 Laimonas Chatkevicius hit a 3-pointer as the shot clock was winding down. That trey extended the lead to 42-25 before South Carolina settled for a 57-30 lead at the half.
The lead grew to as many as 33 points in the second half as the Gamecocks were able to substitute liberally.
Although South Carolina's shooting cooled off in the second half to 8 of 24, the lead was too much for the Dolphins to overcome. The closest Jacksonville got after the break was the 17-point margin at the final buzzer when South Carolina had three walk-ons on the floor.
Martin was pleased with the defense that held Jacksonville to 26 of 68 from the field. Three opponents have shot over 50 percent from the field and that has been a point of contention with the coach.
"It was good to see us play through our defensive philosophies and be able to get out and run," Martin said. "Our team defense was very good. We disrupted their offense early in the game where we forced them into some rushed shots."
Carrera added nine rebounds and Eric Smith tied his career-high with seven assists for the Gamecocks.
Bruce Ellington, who was playing in his third game since coming over from football, and Williams chipped in with 12 points apiece as South Carolina placed four players in double-digits.
Marcellous Bell led Jacksonville (4-6) with 17 points, with Jarvis Haywood adding 13 and Keith McDougald 12.
South Carolina has a 12-day break for exams and will return to the court on Dec. 19 when the Gamecocks host Appalachian State.