COLUMBIA, S.C. – Norfolk State got a career night from senior Charles Oliver, but the Spartan men’s basketball team was never able to overcome an early deficit to South Carolina in an 84-69 loss on Saturday night at Colonial Life Arena.
The Spartans had to overcome plenty of foul trouble as well, as they finished with 35 as a team with three players fouling out late in the game. NSU used a rotation of eight players for most of its season opener against the Gamecocks.
Oliver, though, provided a big spark for NSU. He shot 7-of-13 overall, including 5-of-10 from 3-point range, for a game-high 21 points. He topped his previous career bests from his time at Robert Morris in both points and 3-pointers.
The Spartans hit just 19-of-56 overall (33.9 percent), although they did shoot better from 3-point range thanks to an 11-of-28 effort (39.3 percent). NSU finished just two 3-pointers short of tying the school record.
The Gamecocks did make it to the free throw line 42 times, hitting 29. They also held a 46-35 edge on the boards.
Norfolk State was unable to completely bounce back after falling behind in the first few minutes of the contest. The Gamecocks scored 13 of the game’s first 15 points during a five and a half minute stretch. They led by 12 at 16-4 after a trey from Duane Notice and by as much as 14 at 25-11 after two free throws from Laimonas Chatkevicius 10 minutes into the game.
After a 3-point play from NSU junior Preston Bungei, USC again led by 14 one last time in the first half at 30-16. The Spartans were then able to chip away to get to the six-point halftime margin. Free throws by senior Jeff Short and Oliver got NSU going, and juniorJonathan Wade hit a pair of buckets to get the deficit to single digits. Oliver drained two 3-pointers, and the Spartans got to within four on a 3 from Short with 1:15 left.
Chatkevicius hit a layup with 49 seconds left to give South Carolina a 40-34 lead at the break. He finished with 13 points for the game, with Notice and Sindarius Thornwell each tallying 14 to lead USC.
The Gamecocks started the second half on a 10-2 run to go back up by 14, forcing NSU to play catchup the rest of the night. Sophomore Zaynah Robinson and Short each hit 3-pointers, and Short completed a 3-point play for a 54-49 USC lead with 13:51 to go. Robinson and Oliver hit treys on back-to-back possessions near the halfway point of the second stanza, and the USC lead still sat at five after two free throws from freshman Alex Long at 9:32.
Long sank two more free throws at the 8:19 mark to make it 68-62, but USC scored seven straight over the next two minutes of play to push its advantage up to 13 with six and a half minutes left. The Spartans went three and a half minutes between scores, and foul trouble finally did NSU in as the game came to a close, with Short, Wade and senior D’Shon Taylor all reaching five fouls.
Short finished with 16 points, including a 5-of-5 effort from the charity stripe, while Wade was the only other Spartan in double figures with 10. Robinson added eight points, five rebounds, five assists and two steals without a turnover. The Spartans hit 20-of-23 (87.0 percent) for the game from the free throw line.
USC shot 23-of-59 (39.0 percent) from the floor, including 9-of-22 from long range.
NSU will play its home opener on Tuesday at 7 p.m. against Washington Adventist at Joseph Echols Hall.