- Associated Press - Saturday, January 14, 2017

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - South Carolina is developing a big man who can score just in time for a stretch that will determine if the Gamecocks are Southeastern Conference contenders.

Chris Silva scored a career-high 16 points and tied his best with 11 rebounds to lead South Carolina (14-3, 4-0 SEC) to a 67-56 win over Mississippi on Saturday night. Three times in the past four games the sophomore has scored at least 10 points.

“He’s growing up,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said of his 6-foot-9 sophomore.

PJ Dozier added 16 points for the Gamecocks, who never trailed despite missing 10 straight shots at one point in the first half.

But the Rebels (10-7, 1-4) were shooting just as poorly and turning the ball over more. And when Ole Miss went the final 4:06 of the first half without a point, the Gamecocks lead grew from 25-20 to 34-20 at the break.

Cullen Neal led Mississippi with 12 points. The Rebels were missing their leading scorer, Deandre Burnett, who sat on the bench with a boot on his leg because of a high ankle sprain. The junior averages 18 points a game, and coach Andy Kennedy said while he is healing, he can’t say for certain he will return next game.

South Carolina had 10 more rebounds than Ole Miss, and the Gamecocks had nine offensive rebounds in the first nine minutes of the game.

“My group is awfully soft. I hate to say that as a head coach,” Mississippi coach Andy Kennedy said.

BIG PICTURE

Mississippi: Foul trouble hurt the Rebels too. Marcanvis Hymon got four fouls in the first half and Mississippi had four more players pick up four on a team that played just eight men. Mississippi’s four SEC losses have come by seven points to Florida; 11 points to South Carolina; 22 to Georgia; 23 to Kentucky.

South Carolina: The Gamecocks have yet to lose when Sindaruis Thornwell plays. The senior was suspended for six games, and South Carolina lost three of them. The Gamecocks forced 21 turnovers - the third game in a row their opponent has turned the ball over at least 20 times.

SOUTH CAROLINA RISING

The Gamecocks are off to their best league start since the 1997 team, which won South Carolina’s only SEC regular season title. And they host No. 23 Florida and head to No 6 Kentucky next Saturday - the other two teams without a SEC loss.

Martin hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament in his five years at South Carolina, and the Gamecocks only tournament appearance this century was in 2004.

Martin said next week will show how close his team is to rising to the level of the Gators and Wildcats and other teams likely to fill out the field of 68 in March.

“It’s a good barometer of our basketball team,” Martin said.

MISSISSIPPI BLUES

Kennedy is the longest tenured coach in the SEC at 11 years. But Kennedy’s 1-4 start for a team that has missed the past two NCAA tournaments leaves some dark clouds on the horizon.

The Rebels shot 30.9 percent (17-of-55) Saturday, a percentage boosted by making four of their last six shots. They shot just 27.5 percent last game against Georgia .

“When you’ve been so impotent offensively as we have been the last two games- we’re not pursing the ball, we’re not in the fight,” Kennedy said.

UP NEXT

Mississippi: The Rebels host Tennessee on Tuesday.

South Carolina: The Gamecocks host No. 23 Florida on Wednesday in a game between two of the three teams who remain undefeated in SEC play.

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More AP college basketball: www.collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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