COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) Freshman PJ Dozier finished with a career-high 16 points to lead South Carolina to a 79-54 victory over Drexel Tuesday night.
More importantly, the Gamecocks are one of eight remaining undefeated teams in Division I men's basketball. They improved to 9-0, their best start since the 1970-71 season, and landed just outside of the Top 25 this week.
''One thing that I have told our guys is, for all of us that have been here for a while, winning today this is the first time this school has been 9-0 since 1970-71,'' South Carolina coach Frank Martin said. ''I told them to feel good about that because there's a lot of players that played here in the last 44 years that haven't been able to accomplish what you guys have.''
The players are aware of what they've accomplished but aren't focused on the start of the season. They just came off of a 10-day break because of exams and will play twice in the next week. They understand there will be a lot of practice time and time for improvement over the next three weeks between semesters.
''We're not really caught up on all that,'' junior guard Sindarius Thornwell said. ''We're just focused on the next game. The only thing that matters is the game on Friday.''
It was the best effort of Dozier's young career. He shot 16 free throws, making 10, and seemed to be in the offensive flow better than earlier in the season. He added three assists and one turnover in 24 minutes.
''This was a confidence boost for sure,'' Dozier said. ''I knew I could contribute points-wise but I just want to continue to play the way that got us here.''
Martin said even though Dozier was a McDonald's All-American, it's taken some time for him to understand his game.
''I'm understanding him better as a player and he's starting to figure out college basketball,'' Martin said. ''You're seeing him be more aggressive than he was two or three weeks ago.''
Drexel led by as many as six points in the first half but an 11-0 run gave South Carolina the lead for good. Michael Carrera scored five points during the run, Dozier connected on three free throws and Laimonas Chatkevicius knocked down a 3-pointer to end the run to give the Gamecocks a 26-23 lead.
The Dragons were within four at the half, 32-28, but an 11-0 run by South Carolina out of the locker room gave them control. Mindaugus Kacinas and Thornwell opened the period with consecutive 3-pointers before Dozier scored on a 3-point play in the opening 1:03 of the half to give the Gamecocks a double-digit lead they wouldn't relinquish.
''We made some shots,'' Martin said. ''We couldn't make layups in the first half and the first possessions of the second half we go 3, 3 and three-point play. It made a big difference.''
Drexel went on a 1-for-19 drought from the field during a stretch that sandwiched the half. The Dragons (1-7) closed the first half by making one of their final nine shots before opening the second half by going 0-for-10. They went without a field goal for 7:36.
''The first five or six shots of the second half were pretty good, they didn't go in and then we started forcing stuff,'' Drexel coach Bruiser Flint said. ''They banged the three 3's to start the second half and we're down 12 and that was it right there. We never recovered.''
Thornwell finished with 13 points and Carrera added 10 for South Carolina.
Tavon Allen finished with 18 points to lead Drexel and Sammy Mojica chipped in 13.
Drexel: The Dragons have finished .500 or better each of the last four seasons but are off to a 1-7 start this season. Until the 25-point loss to South Carolina, they had lost only one game by double digits. Flint feels like once his team gets into Colonial Athletic Association play, his team will be well prepared to make a run.
South Carolina: On thing that has been lost in the 9-0 start by the Gamecocks are the way they're rebounding the basketball. They came in with a plus-9.1 rebound margin this season and almost doubled Drexel. South Carolina finished with a 41-22 rebound advantage.
Drexel returns home to face Penn State on Saturday at 7 p.m.
South Carolina travels to Greenville to play Clemson at 7 p.m. on Friday