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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina coach Frank Martin has leaned on his upperclassmen most of this season and they've responded well. The Gamecocks are nationally ranked for the first time since 2003-04 season, so he rewarded them with an extra day off over the Christmas break.
It led to a slow start Wednesday night, but freshman Chris Silva had a season-best 13 points in a balanced attack to lead No. 24 South Carolina to a 78-56 victory over Division II Francis Marion.
"It's good to get that one out of the way," Martin said. "No disrespect to Francis Marion but I thought I gave the guys off one day too many for Christmas but they deserved it. We didn't have our legs and pop offensively and it's hard to shoot the ball. That impacted us some but our guys have been great."
Mindaugas Kacinas added 12 points, and Duane Notice had 10 points as the Gamecocks remained just one of four undefeated teams in the country. Oklahoma, SMU and Xavier are the other unbeaten teams.
South Carolina (12-0) had only played once since Dec. 18 and it showed early. The Gamecocks struggled out of the gate and only held a 12-9 lead with 11 minutes remaining in the first half. But Notice hit two 3-pointers to help ignite a 14-3 run.
Notice, a junior, started 55 games in his first two seasons but been a reserve this season. He's third on the team in scoring and he knows what Martin is looking for when the second unit enters the contest.
"Our job is the same every day and that's to do what we can to help the team," Notice said. "For us to come off the bench and give the team a spark was a good thing."
Silva has quickly become a fan-favorite with his energy and hustle off the bench. He did it again with a couple of dunks and a blocked shot against the Patriots but he thought it took a while for the Gamecocks to get going.
"It took us a little bit of time to get back on track and move the way we used to move at the beginning of the season," Silva said. "We think we got it back as the game went on."
Martin has been pleased what he's seen from his 6-foot-9 freshman.
"When the game is open and up and down and attack mode is the strategy, (Silva) is real comfortable," Martin said. "When the game is slow, like attacking a zone, he's not there yet. But his enthusiasm and aggressiveness is there."
The Patriots came in averaging over 85 points a game but struggled from the outset. They shot 6-for-30 from the field in the first half and finished at 30 percent (18-for-60) for the game and finished with 21 turnovers.
Mike Davis Jr. had 17 points to lead Francis Marion (7-4).
Francis Marion: The Division II Patriots falls to 6-17 against Division I opponents. Their last victory came in a 66-58 win over Citadel on Nov. 14, 1997. This was the first game against a Division I opponent since losing to Campbell 65-64 during the 2002-03 season.
South Carolina: South Carolina came in second in the SEC and 18th nationally in 3-point field goal percentage but struggled early against Francis Marion. The Gamecocks started out by making just 1 of 10, but finished 8 of 27. Notice led the way by making 3 of 7.
Francis Marion: Host Columbus State on Saturday
South Carolina: Host Memphis on Saturday.
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