When the moment finally came Saturday afternoon at Pete Mathews Coliseum, the Gamecocks, in general, and Bynum in specific, showed their excitement jumping out to a 15-point lead in the first 10:02 of their 79-58 season-opening victory against Division II West Alabama.
Bynum scored nine of his team’s first 11 points, all on 3-pointers as he put up a game-high 18 points on 6-for-9 shooting from the field in the final opener of his college career.
The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Oxford High School alumnus started the game flawlessly and didn’t drift far from that mark for the remainder. He hit his first six field goal attempts, four from beyond the arc, and didn’t miss until he was forced to rush a jumper off the dribble late in the shot clock with close to three minutes to play in the first half.
“Anytime I can hit the first shot, I feel good about it,” said Bynum, who swished in a triple from the left wing to give JSU the lead for good at 3-2 with 18:43 to play in the first. “My whole mind state going into the game was to let everything come to me. That’s what I’ve been working on all week.”
While Bynum let things come to him on the perimeter. His partners in the paint forced the issue.
The Gamecocks will be undersized in the low post against most competition this season. Their tallest player heights out at 6-7 and no one weighs more than 230 pounds. However, Saturday night they out rebounded the Tigers 48 to 24.
“It’s something we work on everyday. I think the intensity that we started the game with set the tone for us going down and rebounding the ball. Obviously, when you get 21 offensive rebounds, you’re getting a chance to get some points back and I thought that was crucial.”
Senior Nick Murphy and junior Stephen Hall each snatched down nine rebounds for the Gamecocks. Murphy added 17 points. He did most of his damage in the second half, picking up the scoring load with 10 points and seven boards after Bynum scored 16 in the first.
Freshman guard Brian Williams contributed 11 points off the bench. He saw extended playing time as did junior B.J. Miller. Miller scored nine points and dished out three assists, starting in place of Dominique Shellman who was serving the last of a three-game suspension for violating athletic department policy last week.
“It’s something new for them,” Green said. “Considering they were cast in a role like that, I thought the production by the two at the point guard spot was really, really good. One of them being a freshman and the other a transfer that had to sit out last year, it was great for them to get that experience under their belts. I think that’ll pay us back down the road sometime when maybe Shellman’s not in the game.”
Shellman will be eligible to return when the Gamecocks travel to Norfolk State Tuesday. Having their full-time floor general back might help a JSU squad that turned the ball over 20 times, a figure Green said his team has to decrease to win on the road.
“We’ve just got to stay together and keep playing hard, outplay everybody every night,” Bynum said.
JSU led 45-29 at the half and showed it could establish a post presence early in the second, going to Hall and 6-7 Sean Thurston for deuces on its first two possessions. West Alabama never got any closer than 14 in the second half as the Gamecocks ran away with their fifth straight win against the Tigers in the 100th meeting between the schools.
Alquan Mendenhall, Jonathan Griffin and Ryan Fitch each had 12 points to lead West Alabama. Former Saks standout Korrielle Beavers scored two points to go along with three rebounds and a steal in 29 minutes of action for the Tigers.
Nick Birdsong covers sports for The Star. He can reached at 256-235-3575. Follow him on Twitter @birds_word.