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March Madness: Ex-Gamecock Jermaine Couisnard explodes for 40 points, leads No. 11 Oregon past No. 6 South Carolina

South Carolina would probably like to have this decision back.

No. 11 seed Oregon steamrolled No. 6 seed South Carolina on Thursday, 87-73, in one of the first upsets of the NCAA tournament. Leading the way for the Ducks was senior guard Jermaine Couisnard, a former Gamecock who transferred to Oregon in 2022.

Couisnard torched his former program with a game-high 40 points alongside six assists and four rebounds. He shot 14 of 22 from the field including a 5-of-9 effort from 3-point range.

Jermaine Couisnard scored a career-high 40 points to lead Oregon past South Carolina. (Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
Jermaine Couisnard scored a career-high 40 points to lead Oregon past South Carolina. (Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images) (Tim Nwachukwu via Getty Images)

Couisnard tallied 14 in the first half as Oregon opened a 34-29 lead, then combined with N'Faly Dante to score 18 of Oregon's first 20 points in the second half.

Couisnard's 3-pointer with 14:20 remaining blew the game open, 54-37, in favor of Oregon.

The Gamecocks came back 12 times from second-half deficits this season prior to Thursday's game. But there was no rally on Thursday as Oregon held South Carolina at bay for the remainder of the game.

Couisnard's 40-point tally marked a career high and a new Oregon record in NCAA tournament play.

More first-round success for Oregon coach Dana Altman

The win marks continued early round tournament success for head coach Dana Altman in his 14th season at Oregon. Under Altman, the Ducks improved to 8-0 in the first round of the NCAA tournament. It's the third time Oregon has won as a double-digit seed in the first round. Altman coached the 12th-seeded Ducks to the Sweet 16 in 2013 and 2019.

The Ducks weren't even supposed to be here. With a 59 Net ranking and a 55 KenPom rating, Oregon did not have the profile to make the NCAA tournament as an at-large team. But the Ducks claimed three straight victories in the Pac-12 tournament, which included a win over NCAA No. 2 seed Arizona, to win the conference championship and an automatic bid.

Like he was on Thursday, Couisnard was essential in Oregon's Pac-12 tournament success. He posted 20 points, seven assists and six rebounds in Oregon's 67-59 semifinal win over then-No. 6 Arizona.

Couisnard's decision to leave South Carolina

Couisnard is having his NCAA moment in his second season since transferring from South Carolina. He played his first three seasons with the Gamecocks, but transferred to Oregon in 2022 after a coaching change that saw Lamont Paris take over for the fired Frank Martin.

Couisnard told the Oregonian that he received little communication from Paris after the coaching change, prompting him to enter the transfer portal. He landed in Eugene and ultimately earned All-Pac-12 second-team honors this season. Now he has an NCAA tournament victory over his former team.

Couisnard wasn't alone in Thursday's effort that saw the Ducks put on an offensive showcase. Dante, a first-team All-Pac-12 selection, finished with 23 points, six rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocks. As a team, the Ducks shot 59.6% from the field and 43.8% (7 of 16) from 3-point distance.

The Gamecocks countered with a 45.8% (7 of 15) shooting effort from long-distance. But it wasn't enough to counter Oregon's hot shooting and a 24-12 deficit in made free throws. Junior guard Meechie Johnson Jr. led South Carolina with 24 points as one of three starters to score in double figures.

Oregon advances to Saturday's second round to face No. 3 seed Creighton, which beat No. 14 Akron, 77-60 earlier Thursday. Altman previously coached at Creighton for 16 seasons from 1994-2010.