I was in Richmond, Virginia, sitting on press row as I was "covering" the 2012 CAA Tournament for my site as well as for the Mid Majority's 800 Games Played Project. The CAA Tournament was responsible for ten of my fifty nine Division One games I covered that season.
To me, I wasn't "covering" the CAA Tournament, I was really more soaking in the CAA Tournament, a part of a sold out Richmond Coliseum crowd. It was the year after three CAAHoops teams made the NCAA Tournament, fulfilling the hashtag dream of #3Bids4CAA. I was there among good friends, either super fans, bloggers or writers;Defiantly Dutch, aka my "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" partner in crime, my good friend Jerry Beach, Mike Brodsky, Joe Suhoski, Tom Block, GheorgetheBlog, Batogato,VCUPav, Mason Fanatic, Geoff Sorensen, Josh Verlin, Matt Cerilli, Rob Canady and Brian Mull.
It was one of the most awesome, fun, rewarding experiences of my life.
It was one of the most awesome, fun, rewarding experiences of my life.
So what changed? Isn't this The College Hardwood? Shouldn't I be in Baltimore, Maryland, among several of my CAAHoops friends to take in the first CAA Tournament outside of Richmond in like forever?
In August, 2012, as my loyal readers, aka "The Few, the Proud, the Followers of my site" know, I accepted a position at the University of South Carolina Law School. The job has been terrific and I have never been happier than I am today in both my job and my life outside my job.
And that really is the baseball season here. From February to November, you are practicing and playing baseball. Spring Season starts here the first week of February with our baseball evaluations and draft. And you are playing till fall ball till mid November. Literally, my year of baseball ended on November 14 when we lost in the winner take all Minors Fall League Championship game.
The past two years, I have spent my first weekend in March being a part of Opening Day at Trenholm Park in Forest Acres, South Carolina. And there's no other way I would rather spend it.
As much as I love college basketball, I love coaching Little League even more. I was coaching Matthew in Little League in North Bellmore, New York for two years before I moved down here. Now I am coaching both Matthew and his younger brother, Jonathan, and have been since spring of 2013. I am the head coach of a Jonathan's tee ball team and the co head-coach of Matthew's minors team. And when I am not coaching, I am umpiring, scorekeeping or announcing Little League games.
Baseball has very much become a family affair for us. Just about all my friends down here are from Little League and it's a family affair for them too. Little League baseball has now become my passion, above college basketball. And it's something I truly share with my entire family
My college basketball loving son, who accompanied me on many games during the 2011-12 college basketball season, thought for a moment and said "Dad, I want you at practice there coaching me." It's all he had to say.
And that was enough for me.
That doesn't mean The College Hardwood is going away any time soon or that I no longer will cover college basketball in March. I will be at the Big South Conference championship game today and I will be attending the second and third regional rounds of the NCAA Tournament in Raleigh on March 21 and 23. You can be sure that I will be writing about both of those.
It's just there has been a change of priorities. And often, that's a good thing.
Cheryl Crow was right. "A Change Will Do You Good".
Sunday, March 9, 2014
Sunday, March 2, 2014
But one SEC team has been, for as long as anyone alive can remember, a power in college basketball, not just in the conference, but on the national scene. From Adolph Rupp, Joe B. Hall, and Eddie Sutton, to Rick Pitino and Tubby Smith, to John Calipari today, the Kentucky Wildcats have been the king of the jungle in the SEC and often in college basketball.
Sure, current #1 Florida has won two national champions in a row under coach Billy Donovan. But Big Blue is still the team by what all other teams measure up to in the SEC. The large UK fan base extends across the country, including a certain women's basketball head coach's daughter in New Jersey (Hi, Sam Bozzella).
At one time, the University of South Carolina was a ACC basketball power under Coach Frank McGuire. McGuire's talented teams would fill up the Carolina Coliseum. Under McGuire, USC had a stretch of four consecutive years of NCAA Tournament appearances and several Gamecock players went on to NBA careers.
In this second season as head coach, Frank Martin has done his best to rejuvenate the basketball program. This season, Martin brought in eight new players; seven freshman and one junior transfer. He has also worked hard to reach out to South Carolina high school coaches to solidify keeping the best players in the state at USC.
Given the facts that the Gamecocks are struggling and Big Blue Nation is only a six hour trip away, it stands to reason that there would be a lot of UK fans at Colonial Life Arena on Saturday. Sure enough as I was about to make my turn onto Park Avenue from Gervais Street, a large contingent of Big Blue Nation fans were walking around the Vista. They were no doubt taking in what all the fine establishments in the area had to offer surely hungry and thirsty customers from the Bluegrass state.
My indoctrination to the Kentucky fan base continued as I parked my car in the Discovery Garage directly across from Colonial Life Arena. Most of the garage customers parking had Kentucky license plates. And as I made my way to the front entrance of the arena, the plaza was full of royal blue.
Second, the arena scoreboard was showing the end of the Clemson-USC baseball game. It might be March Madness, but again, here was living proof that baseball is the favored son in March in Columbia. The Gamecock baseball team won, pounding the Tigers 10-2.
As we got closer to game time, the South Carolina fans started filling in. By game time, the announced attendance of 15,000 seemed about fifty-fifty as far as fans, though when the USC student section booed the Kentucky players coming onto the court, Big Blue Nation drowned them out with their cheers.
My friend Ian McCormick came over to say hi and once he found out I had an extra seat, since my color analyst, aka my older son Matthew, wasn't there since he had a friend staying overnight at our house, Ian settled in to my other season ticket holder seat.
The Wildcats outscored the Gamecocks 10-4 over the next six minutes to go up 18-12. James Young capped the mini spurt with a jumper, which gave him seven points to lead the Cats at that point, But the pace actually favored South Carolina as the teams struggled to score and for a while, based on Ian's statistics (he keeps track of every possession), it was on a pace for a forty possession game.
Kentucky maintained their lead, as their next seven points all came at the line to put them up 25-21. Meanwhile, Sindarius Thornwell and Brenton Williams were directly or indirectly responsible for twelve of their next fourteen points scored after being down 18-12. It was a Thornwell three, followed by Williams assisting on a Duane Notice jumper for for a 5-0 mini-spurt to give the lead back to South Carolina 26-25 and igniting the Gamecocks fans in the crowd.
The Gamecocks defensive effort in the first twenty minutes resulted in Kentucky, the second highest scoring team in the conference, shooting five of twenty seven from the field. However, the first half intensive effort combined with Kentucky's relentlessness on the boards resulted in a major foul problem for the Gamecocks, especially for the USC front court. Carrera, Mindaugas Kacinas and Desmond Ringer each picked up three fouls in the first twenty minutes. Demetrius Henry and Thornwell each had two fouls as the Gamecocks committed fourteen fouls in the first half.
The second half continued the foul fest as Kacinas quickly picked up his fourth forty five seconds into the half. But the Gamecocks, especially Williams, started feeling it from the field. He hit a jumper to put South Carolina up five, which would start a 15-4 run over the span of a little less than six minutes. Williams would cap that run with a three pointer to put the Gamecocks up 48-32 with 14:18 left and Colonial Life Arena became unglued. Williams scored eleven of those fifteen points during that spurt.
Finally four minutes later, after a Duane Notice steal, where he thought there should have been a foul called, Calipari had had enough. He said something to the official running by, who stopped in his tracks and gave Calipari his second technical. The South Carolina fans roared in approval as he exited the court.
But entering Saturday evening's game, Kentucky was nationally ranked for a reason. Likewise, South Carolina was 3-12 in SEC play for a reason. And both those factors came to a head, making for an exciting finish.
Kentucky started putting South Carolina's foul trouble to work, scoring the next six straight points from the line, while South Carolina went 0 for 5 from the field. Then Aaron Harrison buried a three pointer and just like that, the Wildcats had a 9-0 run and the Gamecocks' lead was now only seven, 55-48 with 7:20 left. There was plenty of time left for Kentucky to complete the rally and their Big Blue fans roared in support, forcing the South Carolina to counter in decibel levels.
With the return of Desmond Ringer from injury,
But in the last three minutes of Saturday's game, the six foot eleven sophomore forward became ten feet tall in the eyes of his teammates, the Gamecock fans and most importantly, to the Wildcats. First, Chatkevicius grabbed a huge offensive rebound off a wild Thornwell three point shot attempt and got fouled while shooting the putback. Normally a fifty six percent free throw shooter, which made Ian very nervous, he calmly sank both free throws to put the Gamecocks up five.
Later after Aaron Harrison had cut the lead to four, Chatkevicius grabbed another offensive rebound and softly hit the put back to put the Gamecocks back up six. Then after Young buried another three pointer to cut the South Carolina lead in half, again, the Gamecocks' Lithuanian hero hit a jumper to put South Carolina up five, 66-61. In the span of two plus minutes, Chatkevicius had six points, two more than his season average.
Brenton Williams then stole the ball from Young, was fouled and hit both free throws to put Carolina up seven, 68-61 with thirty three seconds left. The students sensing the upset, swelled to the edge of the court near the Carolina Girls seats. The public address announcer sensed it too, asking the fans to not storm the court.
Kentucky would not go quietly into the court rush however. Aaron Harrison was somehow left open and buried a three pointer. Then off a inbounds steal by Young, Julius Randle hit a layup and one. He hit the free throw and in the span of seven seconds, Kentucky had scored six straight points and cut the deficit to one, 68-67.
Well we got our answer after the timeout. Alex Poythress, a twenty eight percent three point shooter, who had attempted just twenty shots from beyond the arc all season, put up a three point attempt with twelve seconds left. His shot missed, much to the chagrin of Associate Head Coach David Hobbs, who was now in charge with Calipari gone. The Gamecocks grabbed the rebound and Williams was fouled by Aaron Harrison, who fouled out, just like Cauley-Stein did earlier.
Williams led all scorers with twenty four points. Thornwell added fourteen points, Carrera had eleven points and the hero of the day, Chatkevicius had eight points. Aaron Harrison led the Wildcats with twenty one points, Young added nineteen and Randle had ten for Kentucky. Kentucky only shot twenty seven percent from the field, though they had twenty one offensive rebounds, as they outrebounded South Carolina 46-28.
It was certainly a foul fest on Saturday night. The teams combined for fifty five fouls and seventy five free throw attempts. Kentucky was 33 of 42 from the line, while South Carolina shot a solid 25 of 33 from the line.
To me, the court rush signaled two things about the program and college basketball. First, if Martin's team becomes successful, this can be the kind of electricity that the basketball program will generate, because the fan support is there. Baseball regularly sells out its eight thousand seat stadium and of course, Williams-Brice Stadium sells out to the tune of 80,000 strong.
specially since a New Mexico State player incited it by throwing a basketball at a Utah Valley player. I have not heard of any other games where there has been a problem. I, for one, think court rushes are fine. It's a spontaneous celebration of achievement. And the home players generally love celebrating their achievement with the fans.
And Saturday night, a large group of South Carolina fans got to celebrate on the court an upset of large proportions. The once last place SEC team knocked off mighty Big Blue Nation, the preseason #1 team in the country. Finally Gamecocks basketball fans had their moment of achievement. Mind you, it's not making the Final Four, let alone making the NCAA Tournament, which are both Frank Martin's goals.
But you have to start somewhere and Saturday night, Colonial Life was somewhere. Somewhere special.
Saturday, March 1, 2014
Having been at Draddy for Iona vs. Manhattan previously for a SRO crowd between these two rivals, I can tell you how intense the Gaels-Jaspers rivalry is from a spectator's standpoint. And if you don't think this is a hot ticket, two years ago, tickets for the Iona- Manhattan game were going for $100, which is usually unheard of in NYC mid major basketball. Jaden Daly of Daly Dose of Hoops was there last night and here's his writeup.
It's quite possible that Iona and Manhattan will face each other again in the MAAC Tournament. Despite the loss, Iona has clinched the MAAC regular season championship and the #1 seed for the MAAC Tournament. Manhattan is tied for second with both Quinnipiac and Canisius. The Jaspers host the Golden Griffiths on Sunday for at least third place.
Oh, one last thing. If Iona wins at home over Rider on Sunday, it will be the fourth time in the four seasons Tim Cluess has coached in New Rochelle that the Gaels have won twenty games. Four years ago, I gave a New York metro college advice on who to take as their head coach. Iona took the advice instead and two NCAA Tournament later, with a possible third on the horizon, the Gaels must be quite happy with the decision.
Speaking of MAAC coaches, how about the job Jimmy Patsos is doing with Siena. The Saints are now over .500 in the MAAC at 10-9 and with a win over Monmouth, will be the fifth seed in the MAAC Tournament. Siena has already won six more games than all of last season and six more games in conference from last season as well. Not surprising, given Patsos' history of success with Loyola Maryland.
One last MAAC note. With Cluess, Steve Masiello, Patsos and Jimmy Baron, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference has become a premier coaching conference. MAACTION!
Wichita State has been getting a lot of flack lately on whether they are a #1 seed for the NCAA Tournament . Several basketball "pundits" have questioned their non conference schedule (Yes, Jeff Goodman of ESPN, I am talking about you in particular). Mark Adams, ESPN analyst, put this into excellent perspective on Twitter by stating that the eight power conference teams ranked in the top ten played eighty six percent of their non-conference games at either neutral site or home. As I pointed out to Mark in a reply, I noted Wichita State only played seven of its twelve non-conference games at home (two were neutral site). Saint Louis, the other non power conference team in the top ten played only six of its eleven games at home (two were also neutral site).
Furthermore, compare Wichita State's team to the last Missouri Valley team that went so far into the season undefeated, the 1978-79 Indiana State team. That team of course was led by Larry Bird and went to the NCAA Championship game undefeated vs. Michigan State before losing to Magic Johnson and the Spartans.
That 78-79 Sycamores team only played one NCAA Tournament team during the regular season, New Mexico State, which Indiana State beat twice in that season in conference. In fact, the Sycamores had to have a 50 foot shot by Bob Heaton to force overtime on the road vs. the Aggies. New Mexico State ended up getting an at large bid, losing to Weber State in a first round game. At that time, only forty teams made the NCAA Tournament.
Despite their lack of a signature non-conference win, Indiana State received a #1 seed. Perhaps having Bird helped their chances of getting a #1 seed. Still, Indiana State justified their seeding by making the NCAA Championship game.
This season, Wichita State has played two definite NCAA Tournament teams in their non conference; BYU and currently #10 Saint Louis. The neutral site win over the Cougars was the championship game of the CBE classic and the win over SLU came on the Billikens home court. Until their loss at home to Duquesne this week, Saint Louis had been undefeated in Atlantic-10 play, which is quite impressive considering there is a very good chance that there will be five A-10 teams in the NCAA Tournament (SLU, VCU, UMass, George Washington and St Joseph's).
Wichita State has also won over bubble team Tennessee, along with wins over Davidson, the Southern Conference regular season champion, who knocked off the current #2 team in the SEC, Georgia and NC Central, who won at North Carolina State and who at 22-5 and 13-1 in the MEAC, is the likely MEAC regular season champion (the Eagles have a two game lead over Hampton). Throw in the fact that with basically the same team from last year's Final Four team, if the Shockers can make it through the rest of the Valley regular season and the MVC Tournament undefeated, they should definitely be a #1 seed and have serious consideration as the #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Gregg Marshall is my coach of the year (and Jaden Daly, I knew about Marshall for years even before his Winthrop team knocked off Notre Dame).
Gregg Marshall is my coach of the year (and Jaden Daly, I knew about Marshall for years even before his Winthrop team knocked off Notre Dame).
On Thursday night, I watched on TV two bottom A-10 teams play, Fordham and Duquesne. Both teams played good first halves against their respective opponents, VCU and St Louis, as I noted, two definite NCAA Tournament teams. In their respective second halves, only one team maintained their composure and heart. The road team Dukes withstood the Billikens and gave St Louis their first loss in A-10 play.
Duquesne at one time was tied with Fordham in the A-10 standings. Yet, Jim Ferry's 12-15 team has not given up and won two of its last four games. Of their four conference wins, three of those are on the road, including a win over the Rams. The Dukes have lost fifteen games on the season, nine of those fifteen losses have been by nine points or less, including six A-10 conference games. Duquesne's scoring margin on the season is - 0.3. You can certainly say the Dukes have been competitive for the most part this season.
I'm not surprised by Ferry's Dukes playing so hard. His successful LIU teams were high scoring, yet very gutty. I was there when the Blackbirds won over Wagner at a hostile, sold out Spiro Center two years ago in what was quite possibly, given the game was on ESPNU on a Saturday night, the biggest regular season game in the history of the NEC (see picture of the game on the left).
Ferry's LIU teams made the NCAA Tournament two years in a row before he took the Duquesne job. Already the Dukes have a four win improvement from last season. Given his ability to recruit nationally (several of his LIU players came from Texas), Duquesne is in good hands.
Meanwhile, VCU went on an early second half run and Fordham looked like they got run over by a truck. They looked clueless on defense, showed no fundamentals on boxing out as VCU got offensive rebound after offensive rebound (in fact VCU had twenty four offensive rebounds) and basically showed no heart the last twenty minutes of the game. VCU scored FIFTY ONE second half points beating Fordham 85-66. One team looked Ram Tough and another looked Rammed.
Then to top it, Fordham Coach Tom Pecora just torched his team's effort after the loss, as per another great Jaden Daly writeup. Yet not anywhere in the post game press conference notes does Pecora accept any blame for his team's failures that night. He even notes that "Teams that win find ways to win, teams that lose, they know how to lose".
Well who's responsibility is for that demeanor and play? It's the coach.
I have already written about Fordham's struggles this season, in fact, it's been my most read article of the season, and taken Pecora to task. So yes, it's like beating a dead horse. But after his VCU post game press conference comments, the dead horse needs to beaten some more.
Fordham has lost five straight games, all by double digit margins. In their last nine A-10 conference losses on the season , the Rams have lost each game by double digits and by an average margin of NINETEEN POINTS. In fact, in Fordham's seventeen losses on the season, thirteen have now come by double digit margins.
Think about that. In only four of their seventeen losses was Fordham even close to winning.
And even the defensive intensity that Pecora's Hofstra teams used to have is now gone. He now goes with a four guard lineup, yet laments that "You can't let them beat you up on the offensive glass". The Rams are DEAD LAST in the A-10 in scoring defense, allowing seventy nine points per game. They are also dead last in field goal percentage defense, allowing teams to shoot forty six percent from the field. The Rams also allow teams to score fifty two percent of their two point field goal attempts.
I think this last quote about Pecora when there is a question about his team's effort sums it up best
"Oh, without a doubt, and I think that's been an issue for us throughout the season. There's been two major issues in my mind: One is getting that kind of team effort for 40 minutes consistently..."That comes down to one person and one person only. The coach.
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Florida had literally a tall task on Sunday. The Gamecocks lead the SEC in blocks, averaging over seven per game. The Gators entered the game as the third leading scoring team in the SEC, averaging over seventy five points per game, shooting forty four percent per game, good for fourth in the conference. It was offense vs. defense in a game where breast cancer victims were being recognized all throughout the game for their fight against breast cancer.
Florida, who hold a season series sweep over #15 Kentucky, came out flying at the start, scoring the first seven points in the game in a little over two minutes. Cassie Peoples had five of the first seven Gators' points.
More importantly, South Carolina imposed its length on Florida. In the first six minutes, the Gamecocks had five blocks, two by Coates and two by Elem Ibiam. As a result, the Gators went nearly eight minutes without a field goal.
Florida finally broke the drought on a Jatera Bonds layup to cut the lead to one, 10-9. The Gators would keep the game close over the next three and a half minutes. Peoples would hit a three to keep Florida within two, 19-17 with a little under seven minutes left in the half.
After a very nice halftime event that recognized fans that had survived breast cancer or had a family member who had breast cancer, the Gamecocks extended their lead to sixteen, 46-30 with a little under thirteen minutes left. Tiffany Mitchell was responsible for five baskets in the first seven plus minutes of the second half, scoring on three layups and assisting on two other field goals. It looked like the game was about over.
But that's as close as Florida got the rest of the way as South Carolina outscored them 20-12 over the last four minutes and forty nine seconds. Mitchell and Coates scored fourteen of the Gamecocks final twenty points as South Carolina won its ninth game in a row, a hard fought 69-55 contest.
With the win, the Gamecocks moved to 25-2 and 13-1 in the SEC. After Texas A&M lost to Kentucky, the Gamecocks clinched at least a tie for the SEC Regular Season Championship, the first in the history of the program. The Gamecocks can win the SEC Regular Season Championship outright with a win over Georgia at home on Thursday, February 27.
Sounds like a good night to watch a team clinch its first outright championship.
Sunday, February 23, 2014
Second Half Shooting Ice Storm Dooms Gamecocks (Recap of Georgia v. South Carolina Men's Basketball Game)
Last week, South Carolina had its second winter storm of the season. It resulted in over three hundred thousand people affected by power outages, three days of school closures and a wish by many for an early spring. The Gamecocks basketball team again thrived on the icetastophre weather though, defeating Vanderbilt, just like they did when they defeated Texas A&M back in late January after another winter storm.
Despite it being a Whiteout day vs. Georgia, there was no such bad, cold weather on Saturday. It was a beautiful, sunny day in Columbia, South Carolina, with the temperature around seventy degrees. And after two morning baseball practices, my color analyst, aka my older son Matthew, and I took the familiar fifteen minute drive from our house to Colonial Life Arena.
Matt and I made the best of a situation and found our way to the parking garage across from Colonial Life. When we walked into the arena, we found it adorned in the colors of the day, white, as each seat was adorned with ESPN SEC network towels. The Gamecocks were hosting a Bulldogs' team that entered the game in third place in the SEC at 8-5.
The Gamecocks responded with a 10-0 spurt over four and a half minutes. It was led by none other than South Carolina's leading scorer, Brenton Williams. Williams buried two three pointers during the span and his second one put the Gamecocks up 13-6.
But Gaines would answer back by nearly being a one man for the Bulldogs. After Brandon Morris hit a three point play for Georgia to cut the lead to 13-9. Then after Williams headed to the bench after picking up his second foul guarding him, Gaines would score the next nine straight points for the Bulldogs. His three pointer put Georgia up one, 18-17 with nine and a half minutes left in the first half.
The back and forth continued between the two teams, as South Carolina would respond with six quick points, a three pointer by Brian Steele, who is seeing a lot more playing time as of late, and three Duane Notice free throws to put the Gamecocks back up two 28-26.
The teams would continue to trade the lead for the last three and a half minutes of the half until Steele again buried a three pointer to tie the game at thirty four at the half. Both teams made ten field goals in the first half, with the Gamecocks hitting one more three pointer (they were five of nine from beyond the arc in the first twenty minutes).
But Georgia couldn't take advantage as they went nearly three minutes without scoring a point. Finally, Gaines hit a layup to put the Bulldogs up six, 41-35. Still, there was over fifteen and a half minutes left for the Gamecocks to find their stride shooting wise and only have to makeup a six point deficit.
But the empty possessions continued for South Carolina. Williams missed a layup and Steele missed two jumpers. After Laimonas Chatkevicius turned the ball over, Williams and Notice missed jumpers.
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs started hitting their shots. Nemanja Djurisic scored five straight points, including a three pointer that capped a 11-0 run to put Georgia up 50-35. Finally with a little less than eleven minutes remaining in the game, Thornwell hit a turnaround jumper to end the zero for fourteen shooting drought and the Gamecocks were down thirteen, 50-37.
But the damage had been done. After Juwan Parker and Williams traded three point possessions, Parker's an old fashioned three point play and Williams with his usual beyond the arc skills, the Bulldogs would extend the lead to nineteen by scoring the next six points to go up 59-40 with nine minutes left. By that time, some fans actually headed to the exits.
Unfortunately, the Gamecocks didn't make those fans regret their decision. Gaines continued to torment the Gamecocks with his scoring. His three pointer put Georgia up twenty, 62-42. All that was left was for South Carolina Head Coach Frank Martin to get a technical foul call to express his frustration with the referees as well as his team's second half play.
Gaines led all scorers with twenty seven points, a career high for him. The sophomore guard shot nine of fourteen from the field including five of nine from beyond the arc. Thornton had a double double with twelve points and ten rebounds while Morris added twelve also for the Bulldogs. The Bulldogs outrebounded the Gamecocks 40-38. When Georgia outrebounds a team, they are 15-3. They are 0-8 when they are outrebounded.
Thornwell led South Carolina with eighteen points and Williams added sixteen points. However, they combined to shoot nine of thirty one from the field. The rest of the team shot a measly six of twenty six.
The weather is getting warmer finally in Columbia, South Carolina. One can only hope that the Gamecocks shooting will get warmer too.
Friday, February 14, 2014
Two weeks later, South Carolina was hit with another snow storm on Wednesday, one that dumped several inches of slow, sleet and even ice across the state. It also caused massive power outages statewide and again closed schools state wide, including once again, the University of South Carolina. In the span of two weeks, the University closed for four days and had a delayed opening on a fifth day.
The snowstorm also caused the postponement of the Wednesday night Vanderbilt-South Carolina game, which was rescheduled to Thursday at 4:00 PM. By around 3:00 PM, the sun was out in Columbia and it was warm enough to melt the ice on the roads. After venturing out to the local CVS to scout out road conditions, I decided to take the trip to Colonial Life Arena to watch the game.
The announced crowd was 9,829, but that must have included pre-sold tickets, because the crowd was far less than the announced number. As a result, you heard a lot more things than you normally would in a more full arena. Then again, you can always hear Gamecocks Head Coach Frank Martin on the court, no matter how large the crowd. Martin puts on a show with his facial expressions and outward honesty. At one point during a stoppage in play, he yelled at Brenton Williams "Are you gonna guard the ball?!"
Vanderbilt won the tip and had three chances to score on the first possession due to two offensive rebounds. But the Commodores couldn't score. South Carolina scored the first basket on a Sindarius Thornwell jumper. Vanderbilt's James Siakam layup then tied the game at two. The Gamecocks would outscore the Commodores 8-3 over the next 90 seconds. Another Thornwell basket put South Carolina up 10-5.
Vanderbilt would hang around, thanks to their terrific freshman center Damian Jones. Over the span of a minute, Jones would hit two baskets and block two shots. His layup put Vandy within one, 14-13.
Over the next six minutes, both teams would struggle from the field as they combined to only score fifteen points. During this span, the Gamecocks were three of eleven from the field with three turnovers. Meanwhile, the Commodores committed four turnovers in the span and only attempted three field goals. The third field goal attempt, an Odom jumper, again cut the Gamecocks' lead to one, 22-21. It was Odom's first basket of the game and his only basket of the half.
In the second half, after a Duane Notice jumper put the Gamecocks up three, 32-29, the Commodores scored the next four points. After a Fuller jumper, Jones followed with a layup to give Vandy their first lead of the game 33-32. Later Fuller would hit another jumper to put Vandy back up two, 38-36 with fifteen minutes left in the game. It would be the Commodores' last lead in the game.
Over the next seven plus minutes, South Carolina went on a 14-3 run. The Gamecocks clamped down on the Commodores, only allowing an Odom long distance three during the span. What made the difference was the Gamecocks' tenaciousness on the offensive glass. South Carolina would grab eight offensive rebounds during this span which would lead to many second chance opportunities. In fact, during this run, ten of the Gamecocks' fourteen points would come off second chance opportunities. Brian Steele, who is seeing more playing time due to his hustle, capped the spurt with a layup to put South Carolina up thirteen, 58-45 with four minutes left.
But the Commodores got no further, thanks to Thornwell. While doing a terrific job of holding Odom to only nine field goal attempts, he was scoring points as well. Thornwell would score five straight South Carolina points to put the Gamecocks back up ten, 63-53 with fifty four seconds left. He capped USC's scoring by hitting one of two free throws as the Gamecocks won their second game in the SEC 65-59.
Thornwell led the Gamecocks with nineteen points and also added six rebounds and six assists. Williams added fourteen points and Notice had ten points. Fuller led the Commodores and all scorers with twenty points. Jones was terrific for Vandy with sixteen points, ten rebounds and seven blocks. Odom had only ten points as he was held by Thornwell to three of nine shooting on the day.
During that interview, I don't remember Martin saying much about the team's luck with winter storms. It will probably be the last storm for the season. Temperatures will be up in the seventies early next week, with a forecast of the upper seventies by next weekend.
If the Gamecocks' can continue to rebound and play defense like they did on Thursday, perhaps they will get hot too.
Saturday, February 8, 2014
As Martin would say in his post game interview with Gamecocks Radio play by play announcer Andy Demetra, the game plan was simple; help out on defense against the Tigers one-two guard punch of Chris Denson and KT Harrell. Denson and Harrell each score about twenty points a game and are Auburn's only two double digit scorers.
Duane Notice got the night started off right for the Gamecocks with a three pointer but Auburn would score the next five points. Demetrius Henry would tie the game at five, the first of three ties there would be over the first six plus minutes. Denson would break the last of the ties in that span with a three pointer to put Auburn up 18-15. The Tigers would keep the lead for the next twenty one minutes in the game.
Despite what Martin had said was the game, the Gamecocks could not contain Denson and Harrell. Though Auburn got help along the way from Tahj Shamsid-Deen and Allen Payne, it was the Tigers' two star guards who kept South Carolina at bay. Denson had eight points in the first nine and a half minutes in the game and scored twelve in the first half. Meanwhile, Harrell had ten first half points.
Williams struggled to start the season. In the span of six non conference games starting with Clemson and ending with St Mary's, Williams failed to score in double figures in five of those six games. Even worse, Williams had zero points in three games; Clemson, Oklahoma State and Manhattan. Williams barely played against the Cowboys and the Jaspers, playing two minutes and six minutes respectively in those games.
Since the Diamond Head Classic game against St Mary's, Williams has scored in double figures in every game since, except the one point loss at home to Ole Miss, where he scored nine points all on free throws (he was 0-10 from the field). Including the game against the Tigers, Williams has averaged eighteen points per game over his last fourteen games. Over his last five games, he is averaging twenty two points per game, shooting a terrific forty three percent from beyond the arc and an awesome ninety six percent from the free throw line, which leads the nation among those that qualify.
Early in the second half, Williams would get the Gamecocks within two, 42-40 with another three pointer. A little later, Notice would again keep South Carolina within two with a layup, 44-42. But from there, things got out of hand defensively for the Gamecocks.
Over the span of four minutes, Auburn went on a 16-2 run. Again it was the duo of Denson and Harrell doing most of the damage. Denson and Harrell would combine for eleven of the sixteen points. Payne would cap the run nailing a three pointer to put the Tigers up 60-44 with 13:20 left in the game.
The problem was that the Gamecocks' front court was not helping out on defense. South Carolina also does not have a shot blocking presence in the middle. The Gamecocks would only have three blocks on the night, which is line with their average per game, 3.9 blocks, which puts them eleventh in the SEC in that category.
Despite their defensive struggles in the halfcourt, the Gamecocks would mount a furious rally, started by, who else, Williams. He would hit two free throws, then bury a three pointer to cut the lead to eleven, 60-49. Meanwhile the Gamecocks switched to a press, which completely throw off Auburn. The Tigers would commit six turnovers in a span of three and a half minutes.
This would result in an 18-2 run by the Gamecocks. Williams would score twelve of those points and a Mindaugas Kacinas layup would tie the game at sixty two with a little under eight minutes left, much to the delight of a now raucous Colonial Life Arena. When the Tigers went up sixteen, one of the season ticket holders in front of me was so frustrated by the Gamecocks play, he left. His friend of forty years sitting next to him stayed and credited the guy leaving with starting the rally, noting "Maybe he shouldn't come back here the rest of the season".
Williams had another terrific offensive night with twenty nine points on ten of fourteen shooting from the field, including six of ten from beyond the arc. Kacinas came off the bench to score fourteen points and Notice added twelve points. Thornwell struggled from the field shooting three of sixteen, but he did have nine assists and four steals to go with his eight points.
Williams, however, could not match the Auburn duo of Denson and Harrell. They each had twenty five points, combining to shoot seventeen of thirty from the field and twelve of fifteen from the line. The Tigers got help from Shamsid-Deen, who had twelve points and Payne added nine of his own. Auburn shot fifty two percent from the field, including a blistering sixty seven percent in the second half (14 of 21).
During his post game talk with Demetra, Martin called his team defense "selfish" as in there was no help defense for Thornwell and Notice on Denson and Harrell. As I noted at the beginning of the article, Martin noted that Auburn's game plan was simple, to get the ball to Denson and Harrell. But he also noted his team didn't do what was necessary to follow the game plan.
Staring at a 1-8 record in conference with a road game upcoming at Tennessee, South Carolina needs to right the ship soon. They are solidly in last place in the SEC, two games behind Auburn and Alabama. There needs to be more help on D if they want to get a W.