Saturday evening was the Mack Center in Hempstead. Sunday was Cameron Indoor Stadium for the Iona - Duke women's basketball game. I was now back in Columbia to see South Carolina host Rider in another Hoops for Hope regional game at the Colonial Life Arena.
It was also the third straight game I saw with my dear friend Tony Terentieff, aka Tieff to the loyal readers of this site. Tieff stayed with me in Columbia after the Iona-Duke game and we went together to the arena. Our plan was to have dinner at the Thirsty Fellow which is conveniently located by the arena, then take in the basketball game.
But right across from the arena, USC was having it's annual Tiger Burn (I am sure the World Wildlife Federation just loves that term). It's an annual event before the annual Clemson-South Carolina football game. As part of tradition, in the week leading up to the game, there is an event where each school burns an object of the other team.
This year, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers student group built a thirty foot tiger that was to be burned during a ceremony. As Tieff and I made our way from the parking lot, we saw a large crowd of students being treated to a musical act while the giant Tiger stood nearby. We took a couple of pictures as we knew the fate that awaited the tiger.
Not too long after we got our meals, we heard and saw fireworks going off in the distance on the field which is across from the Thirsty Fellow. The Tiger was now meeting its predestined fate. We decided to just eat our meals and we would see the results in a little while.
The Hoops for Hope Classic is one of those "tournaments" where four predestined teams play two home games against supposed "lesser" teams, then play the semifinals and finals in an exotic location. In South Carolina's case, it's Puerto Vallarta. The rest of the "lesser" teams that are in this tournament, like Rider, end up playing each other in a much less exotic location. College basketball, like life, isn't fair.
Frank Martin could care less if South Carolina was playing in Puerto Vallarta, Columbia or your local YMCA. He expects his teams to play at a high level at all times. If his Gamecocks are not playing up to his standards, you will see it on his face.
Martin would be a terrible poker player. You know where he stands at all times; whether it's covering his face after a bad play, or staring hole through a player after a really bad play, or better yet, following his player he just yanked to his seat on the bench and giving a teaching lesson right on the spot.
It's simply great theater and to be honest, part of the fun of watching a Gamecocks' game is just seeing Martin go off. The only coach I would compare Martin to is Bruiser Flint on Drexel. You have to see both live to truly appreciate them.
But South Carolina had a difficult time maintaining a double digit lead due to shooting themselves in the foot. After a telegraphed cross court pass by Damien Leonard that resulted in a steal and a Lindsey layup to cut the lead to 32-23, Martin immediately called timeout. The Gamecocks got the lead backup to double digits with a three from Leonard. But again, Rider would cut the deficit to single digits and only trailed 44-37 at the half.
Well they got the ball to Slawson in the second half. The first problem was he was outside the three point line. The second and more consequential problem was that Slawson hoisted an ill advised three that was way off the mark. That prompted Martin to immediately yank Slawson and give him the death stare. South Carolina was only up 50-45.
However, even Williams' outstanding play on the night didn't spare him from Martin's wrath. After hitting a basket, Williams didn't get into position and fouled a Rider player on a drive attempt. Martin yelled out to Williams as clear as day "WHY ARE YOU REACHING?!"
Despite allowing some easy Broncs' layups, eventually the Gamecocks pulled away with a 13-2 run and went up 86-66 with three minutes left. It looked like South Carolina was putting it all together.
South Carolina eventually ended up winning 88-76. Martin had to be happy with his offense. The Gamecocks were much more economical from beyond the arc in the second half, hitting seven of their eleven three pointers in the last twenty minutes. South Carolina shot fifty three percent from the field. Williams led four Gamecocks in double figure scoring.
However, Martin was probably not happy that Rider shot fifty percent from the field, including twenty one of thirty nine from two point range. Lindsey, the transfer from St John's, led all scorers with twenty six points.
All in all it was a fun night for many of the fans in attendance. They got to see a Gamecock win, a Tiger burn and Frank Martin burn. What else can a fan ask for?