CONWAY, S.C. — South Carolina started the relocated Puerto Rico Tip-Off with a clunker. Coach Frank Martin could at least feel better about the way the Gamecocks finished it in the fifth-place game.
Wesley Myers and Chris Silva each scored 14 points, while South Carolina took control after halftime to beat Western Michigan 79-66 on Sunday.
The Gamecocks (4-1) started slow and trailed 13-2 before leading 35-34 at the break. They took over by running off 14 unanswered points during a 17-1 run while holding Western Michigan (2-3) without a basket for nearly 8½ minutes.
That turned a one-point edge into a 57-40 margin on Kory Holden’s 3-pointer with 10:02 left, a margin that stayed in double figures the rest of the game for Martin’s 100th career win at South Carolina.
“There was a trophy for the team that won at the end, and anytime there’s a trophy in place, you want to play for it,” Martin said. “We’re disappointed we didn’t get that opportunity. But once that first game went away and that was no longer an option, then the goal is about your team to continuing to get better because you want your team playing its best in March.”
The defensive performance included harassing the Broncos into 22 turnovers that led to 28 points for the Gamecocks, with a tournament-record 10 turnovers coming from Western Michigan leading scorer Thomas Wilder.
It helped that it was the second time the Gamecocks had seen Western Michigan this week. They won 78-60 at home Monday, then won in Conway after the tournament was relocated due to hurricane damage in Puerto Rico.
“I was real happy with the defensive adjustments that our guys executed today,” Martin said. “We didn’t get back-cut, we sat on some stuff they ran against us when they got layups, so the guys defensively were sharp on that.”
Wilder scored 15 points to lead Western Michigan, while Bryce Moore tied a career-high with four 3-pointers and scored 14 points.
“Good physical effort — lost the ball game in an 8-minute stretch,” Broncos coach Steve Hawkins said. “That’s kind of what it came down to there.”
South Carolina: The Gamecocks had a rough Tip-Off opener by struggling to operate against Illinois State’s zone, but they regrouped with two double-figure wins by rolling past UTEP on Friday and then Western Michigan. The second-half defensive play Sunday was a positive, too, considering Western Michigan managed just four shot attempts during its 8-minute basket drought due to all the turnovers.
Western Michigan: The preseason Mid-American Conference favorite lost two of three in Conway, first by falling 81-74 to Tulsa in Thursday’s first round. The Broncos then had a big second-half opening to pull away from Appalachian State on Day 2, but they committed just too many mistakes to earn their first win against a power-conference opponent since 2006.
“A lot of good things to take out of it,” Hawkins said. “But against a team like South Carolina, can’t have those kind of mistakes. And you certainly can’t not meet their intensity because you know what they’re going to do.”
Myers, a 6-foot-1 graduate student who had played at Niagara and Maine, came in averaging 5.3 points but made 5 of 9 shots and had five rebounds Sunday.
“I’m kind of still at the point where I’m trying to figure out where my role is and where I fit in,” Myers said. “It was just a good day, I guess.”
Wilder, a 6-foot-3 senior, had a big offensive showing with 65 points in the three days, including 31 against Appalachian State. But his 10 turnovers came after he had just two coming into the game on the season.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks travel to Florida International on Nov. 27.
Western Michigan: The Broncos host Northwood on Nov. 25.
Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap