By WILLIE T. SMITH III
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Hassani Gravett scored a lay-up, followed by a free throw with 6.5 seconds remaining to give South Carolina an 80-78 victory over Coastal Carolina in Colonial Life Arena on Saturday.
The play allowed the Gamecocks to earn a victory in a game they trailed by as many as five in the second half. They survived Coastal Carolina getting two shots off as time ran out. The win, which improved USC's record to 8-2, was its third straight since returning home.
The loss dropped the Chanticleers to 5-5.
Frank Martin has built his coaching reputation on defense. He has been frustrated that this year's team has not displayed toughness on that side of the court. The Chanticleers exploited South Carolina's defense throughout the first half, connecting on seven of 14 3-point attempts. When Coastal wasn't scoring from long range, its guards managed to beat defenders off the dribble.
The Chanticleers continued to take advantage of USC's defense in the second half, earning its largest lead (69-64) with 7:56 remaining on an Arthur Labinowicz jumper. The Gamecocks pulled within one on several occasions, but appeared unable to regain the lead. USC tied things at 76 with 2:03 remaining on a driving layup by Maik Kotsar.
South Carolina, which trailed in the later stages of the opening 20 minutes, managed to rally and go into the locker room tied at 47. The Gamecocks out-scored Coastal Carolina by 12 on the free throw line.
Coastal, which entered Columbia with a 5-4 record, returns home with confidence after struggling early in the season. The Chanticleers placed four players in double figures, led by Demario Beck with 20. He was followed by Jaylen Shaw (17), Ajay Sanders (14) and Zac Cuthbertson (11).
USC: Coach Frank Martin talked candidly about the regression of his team in the last two weeks. He will have to find a way to get his team back on track during the exam break even though the Gamecocks won. Frank Booker paced USC with 19. Chris Silva (15) and Justin Minaya (13) were also in double figures.
Following s break for exams, South Carolina goes on the road to take on instate rival Clemson on Dec. 19. Following a holiday break it hosts Limestone on Dec. 27.
Coastal Carolina begins five game home stand, starting with Montreat Dec. 16.
By WILLIE T. SMITH III