He said he had just woken up and was simply tired, but he appeared more to be fighting a head cold than fatigue.
Whatever it was that was ailing him, when he walked out of the gym a few hours later, that rundown feeling was as still there, but it was Austin Peay that was gone.
Gaines sucked it up and scored a team season-high 28 points, helping the Gamecocks take down struggling Peay 81-74 to snap a two-game losing streak and a three-game slide at home. It was their second straight win over the Govs and first in the regular season since Jan. 26, 2006.
“We’ve just been going hard practicing and I guess I got a little tired ... tried to get a little rest before the game,” Gaines said. “I told Coach how I was feeling, but he said I have to go out there and play — and I did.
“When I first started out I was kind of slow, feeling it, but once I got going I just had to suck it up and keep pushing through it. coach told me to just fight it; that’s what I did.”
Slow? Gaines scored six of JSU’s first 11 points in a game the Gamecocks (13-7, 5-4 OVC) trailed only briefly. He wound up hitting 11 of 18 from the floor and all five of his free throws.
His 28 points were the most by a JSU player in a game since he scored 30 last year against Alabama State. He’s averaging 20.3 points in the four games since the Gamecocks lost then-leading scorer Darion Rackley to a thumb fracture, shooting better than 50 percent from the field and 21 of 26 from the line.
“I thought he did an excellent job out there pretty much on both ends of the floor,” Green said. “… When he’s focused, he’s a very good offensive player. When we’re having trouble scoring, he’s a guy that really we try to get him a look.”
The Gamecocks, 13-7 through 20 games for only the second time in their Division I history and now just two wins away from their first winning season since 2005-06, didn’t have any trouble with that on this night.
They shot 54 percent from the floor and nearly that from 3-point range. Brian Williams added 17 points, hitting 4 of 6 3-pointers, and dished eight assists. Ronnie Boggs scored 16 points, going 5 of 8 from the floor and 6 for 6 from the foul line, grabbed seven rebounds, got seven steals and dealt four assists.
Normally a 67 percent shooting team from the free-throw line, the Gamecocks were a season-best 20 of 23 Thursday.
Peay (5-16, 1-6 OVC) had four of its five starters score in double figures — including a double-double from freshman Chris Horton (18 points, 10 rebounds) — and shot 55 percent from the field, but was only 6 of 13 from the line and 4 of 11 from 3-point range. The Governors have lost four in a row, 12 of their last 13 and are now four losses away from back-to-back 20-loss seasons for the first time in school history.
The Gamecocks took the lead early but never really had control until Nick Cook’s monster dunk in the final minute.
They hit nine of their first 11 shots from the floor and opened a 14-point lead midway through the first half only to watch Peay trim it to two four minutes later.
Green changed the dynamic with a not-so-subtle nudge and the Gamecocks responded by pulling the lead back out to double digits at halftime. Peay never got closer than five until inside the final minute.
“I think that was some maturity with this team, to be able to gain composure and have the detailed focus to get ourselves back,” Green said. “We made some big plays throughout the game, which kept them at bay a little bit.
“That’s what we keep talking to this group about, the maturity it takes to finish out a season when you start it fairly well. I thought this was a pivotal game — for both teams — but certainly I thought it was for us considering the last three home games we’ve lost, Murray is coming in and we’re trying to have a winning season.”
Sports Writer Al Muskewitz: 256-235-3577. On Twitter @almusky_star.