Oregon's Couisnard drops 40 points on old school in 87-73 March Madness win over South Carolina

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Jermaine Couisnard swears it wasn't personal and he wasn't seeking revenge against South Carolina.

He got some anyway.

Couisnard scored a career-high 40 points — the most for an Oregon player in NCAA Tournament history — and he haunted his former team while leading the Ducks to an 87-73 victory in the first round of the Midwest Region on Thursday.

Couisnard, who spent three years at South Carolina before transferring in part because of a coaching change following the 2022 season, made five 3-pointers, dropped all seven free throws and went 14 of 22 from the field to pace the 11th-seeded Ducks (24-11).

“He was really feeling it,” said Oregon coach Dana Altman. “He had a couple 3s that were tough, and that really got him going. He got in the paint and finished some tough shots. He just had it going. Those are games every player dreams of, getting it going and getting it going in the NCAA Tournament is a really good feeling.”

With his grandmother and parents watching from the front row, Couisnard put on quite a show while also exchanging a few words with some former teammates.

“It was fun, man,” the smooth guard said. “Those guys kind of made me. I grew a lot. I learned a lot when I was there. So I appreciate those guys more than anything.”

Oregon, which has been reduced to eight scholarship players due to injuries, advanced to the second round to face No. 3 seed Creighton, a 77-60 winner over No. 14 seed Akron in the first of four games at PPG Paints Arena.

The Creighton-Oregon matchup will have a family feel, as it will reunite Altman and Creighton, where he spent 16 years and built the Nebraska school into one of the nation's best mid-major programs.

“There’s not much separation,” Altman said. ”I still love the school. It’ll mean a lot. But it means a lot to those guys. It’s for my team. It’s bittersweet because only one of us is going to move on. But we’ll battle our tails off."

Altman has done OK for himself while coaching out West as well. The Ducks improved to 8-0 in first-round NCAA Tournament games under him.

Oregon center N'Faly Dante added 23 points, some of them coming on backboard-shaking dunks for the 6-foot-11 big man who had knee surgery earlier this season.

The sixth-seeded Gamecocks (26-8) had too many offensive droughts to keep up with the Ducks, who beat top-seeded Arizona last week on the way to a surprising Pac-12 tourney title.

However, South Carolina did provide this tournament's first viral moment, as guard Ta'Lon Cooper dropped a shot from beyond half court as the halftime horn sounded.

While that shot was memorable, Couisnard's were more meaningful.

With Oregon leading by nine points early in the second half, Couisnard hit consecutive 3-pointers. Following his second long-range make, the native of East Chicago, Indiana, yelled toward the green-and-gold-clad Oregon fans sitting nearby and they screamed back at him.

At least one of the Gamecocks chirped at him, but Couisnard said he wasn't looking for any payback.

“It wasn’t them,” he said. “It was just me being competitive. I know those guys have a great team over there. Coach Lamont (Paris) did a wonderful job this year. It was just me just showing my will, just trying to compete to win.”

Whenever South Carolina made a push in the second half, Oregon had an answer and it was either Couisnard or Dante, who made 70% of his shots this season.

Meechie Johnson scored 24 and Cooper 15 for the Gamecocks, who made a major turnaround in Paris' second season after winning just 11 games last season.

Paris tried different defenses to contain Couisnard. Nothing worked.

“Wish we had found a way to slow him down better,” he said. “But he went 5 for 9 from 3, once in transition as he’s dribbling up right in front of us, and 7 for 7 from the free-throw line. And he was aggressive, going to the basket. I mean, he hit a floater against the zone that we fouled him on. He makes tough shots. He doesn’t average 40, but he makes tough shots.”

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While Altman has been away from Creighton for some time, his heart remains.

“You spend 16 years at a place, and I got great feelings about Creighton,” he said. “You can leave a place but that doesn’t mean you still don’t love the place. And I’ve had 14 great years at Oregon, and I love this place. And when I’m done, I’ll feel the same way about Oregon as I do about Creighton. I’m the luckiest guy. I’ve coached 30 years at two great schools.”

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AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-mens-bracket and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness