COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina coach Frank Martin has a simple explanation for his team’s sudden surge from the outside — the play of forward Chris Silva around the basket.
Martin said Silva has been a take-charge player down low, causing opponents to send several players inside to slow him down and opening up the outside for the Gamecocks to make some shots.
That’s been the case, particularly lately. A.J. Lawson had 23 points, including six of South Carolina’s program record-tying 16 3-pointers, in an 84-77 win over Texas A&M on Saturday.
“We’re learning how to play around him,” Martin said of his outside shooters.
The results speak for themselves. The Gamecocks (13-12, 8-4 Southeastern Conference) have made 40 of 69 3-pointers in the last three games, two of them come-from-behind victories over Arkansas last Saturday and the Aggies.
“We’ve been working on it,” Lawson said.
Silva, who had 22 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks, echoes his teammate’s sentiments, saying the outside boost makes South Carolina “very dangerous and makes me feel like I’m not alone.”
The Gamecocks trailed by double digits in the first half and were down 45-35 after Savion Flagg opened the second half for Texas A&M with a 3-pointer. Tre Campbell quickly answered for the Gamecocks to start a 29-15 run over the next 13 minutes and take control.
It kept South Carolina’s surprising SEC run going as the team that lost to mid-majors Stony Brook and Wofford in November and was just 5-7 entering league play is challenging for one of the conference’s top four spots — and the double-bye in the SEC Tournament that brings.
Lawson hit 6 of 7 from behind the arc overall as the Gamecocks shot 51.6 percent (16 of 31) from distance.
“When the other team makes 16 threes, it’s hard to win on their floor,” Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said.
Texas A&M (10-13, 3-9) saw its two-game win streak end.
Flagg led the Aggies with 24 points and Wendell Mitchell had 20.
South Carolina tied the school mark for most 3-pointers in a game — set against Campbell in November 2007. Hassani Gravett sank four 3s and scored 18.
The Aggies came in winning consecutive SEC games for the first time this season with victories over Missouri and Georgia. And they started this one like they didn’t want the run of success to end.
Mitchell had a 3-pointer and a three-point play in the first two minutes to lead a 24-12 start. Mitchell’s third 3 of the half, with 5:27 to play, gave Texas A&M its biggest lead at 34-21.
That’s when the Gamecocks, behind the 6-foot-9 Silva, finally got things going. Silva skied for an alley-oop off a feed from Gravett, then followed with a 3-pointer to start the charge. South Carolina closed a 14-4 surge on Silva’s bucket that cut things to 38-35 in the half’s final minute.
But Josh Nebo put back a missed shot and TJ Starks went for a breakaway layup in the final 25 seconds to put the Aggies up 42-35 at the break.
Texas A&M: The Aggies have struggled much of SEC play and showed some life early on at South Carolina. But Texas A&M could not handle the Gamecocks hot outside shooting or contain Silva on the inside. TJ Starks, a normally reliable shooter off the bench, had trouble finding his shooting touch, making just six of 14 attempts and missing all three of his 3-point tries.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks have gotten into a bit of a habit in falling behind and charging back. They were down 13 points in the second half against Arkansas last week before coming back to win. They overcame a similar double-digit deficit in the second half here, too.
WORK TO DO
South Carolina coach Frank Martin said his team’s success from distance covered up some deficiencies on defense. He says the Gamecocks need to be more aggressive on getting loose balls and coming up with defensive rebounds.
WHERE’S THE FOUL?
Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy thought his team did a good job of trying to get fouled, even it did not lead to foul shots. The Aggies finished with just 10 foul shots, 12 fewer than the Gamecocks. TJ Starks had several misses on drives that appeared to cause contact but were not called. “I don’t even think we got to the bonus” in the second half, Kennedy said.
Texas A&M returns home to play Alabama on Tuesday night.
South Carolina ends a two-game home stand with Mississippi on Tuesday night.