COLUMBIA, S.C. - South Carolina has picked the right time to play its best basketball of the season.
After winning just twice in the first seven games, the Gamecocks (6-6) won for the fourth time in the last five with a 92-65 victory over Marshall on Monday night.
Before South Carolina left for the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii over the Christmas break, the Gamecocks lost at home to Manhattan and USC Upstate by a combined 24 points. They earned a third place finish in Hawaii and have won three straight games by double-digits.
South Carolina coach Frank Martin pointed to a stretch just before halftime in which the Gamecocks turned a one-point deficit into a 36-31 lead despite the fact four starters were on the bench with two fouls each. He said two weeks ago his team would not be able to withstand that type of pressure.
"I was worried about this match-up because they're extremely athletic and they attack you," Martin said. "I was worried about getting into foul trouble and as the game played out that is what happened. Credit the guys that were there at the end of the first half. They took the lead and we didn't wilt."
Marshall (5-8) lost for the sixth time in the last seven games. Shawn Smith led Marshall with a career-high 19 points and Ryan Taylor added 18 but the lack of defensive effort in the second half was too much to overcome.
"We didn't have many stops, period," Marshall coach Tom Herrion said. "Our defense wasn't very good in the second half. I thought we bothered them a little bit in the first half and got the ball out in transition but they run their stuff and we didn't do a good enough job guarding it."
The Gamecocks built on the five-point halftime lead and took firm control with a 14-1 run. Duane Notice ignited it with a 3-pointer and he scored seven points and added two assists to give South Carolina a 61-41 lead with a little over 12 minutes remaining.
"Our defense set the tone," Williams said. "We were able to get stops and that allowed us to get out and run and set things up on the offensive end."
Marshall's leading scorer, Kareem Canty was held to 11 points on 2-of-15 shooting. He also had 11 turnovers.