Malik Cooke had his first double-double of the season and scored a career-high 24 points as South Carolina held on to defeat USC Upstate, 72-66, Saturday afternoon in New Years Eve action at the Colonial Life Arena. The win improves the Gamecocks to 7-6 heading into 2012, and the Spartans, in the midst of a seven-game road trip, fall to 8-6.
Cooke added a season-high 10 rebounds to his 25 points and also added three assists to give the Gamecocks three straight wins to close out the season. It was his second double-double as a Gamecock after transferring from Nevada, besting his 11-point, 11-rebound effort against Arkansas on January 19, 2011.
Sophomore guard Brenton Williams hit double-digits for the first time since the season opener, adding 11 points for the Gamecocks off the back of an 8-for-8 effort from the free throw line. R.J. Slawson continued his strong form with 10 points and eight rebounds on the day. As a team, South Carolina 51.1 percent from the field, topping the .500 mark for the third time this season.
The teams traded baskets to start the game with USC Upstate leading 12-11 six minutes in before the Gamecocks raced out on a 15-4 run to put distance between the two teams. The Spartans were not able to cut the deficit for the remainder of the half with the Gamecocks leading by as many as 12 points before taking a 40-31 advantage into the break.
Upstate reclaimed the lead at 47-46 with 12:58 remaining in the game amidst a rash of Gamecock turnovers and missed outside shots. The Gamecocks quickly took the lead back with a pair of free throws by Cooke, and the team never relinquished the lead again. South Carolina stretched its lead to as many as seven points with three minutes remaining, but the Spartans mounted comebacks each time the lead threatened to swell.
After a free throw cut Carolina’s lead to two, a tip-in by Damontre Harris with 25 seconds remaining put the Gamecocks ahead 70-66. South Carolina sealed the victory after the Spartans missed a 3-point attempt on their next possession that Cooke rebounded to secure the double-double.
South Carolina concludes conference play Tuesday, Jan. 3 when SC State comes to the Colonial Life Arena for the final in-state clash of the Gamecocks’ season. Tip-off between the Gamecocks and Bulldogs is scheduled for 7 p.m.