Saturday, December 8, 2012

Gamecocks Use a Football Mentality to Defeat Dolphins (Recap of USC v. Jacksonville)

Sunday, South Carolina lost at home to Clemson.  It was their second straight loss after winning five of their six first games.   The Gamecocks needed a different approach to defeating the Dolphins of Jacksonville on Friday night.   And that approach would have made Steve Spurrier proud.

As you may know if you are one of my marines, aka the few, the proud, the readers of my site, I work for the University of South Carolina in an IT capacity at the School of Law.  It’s been a great nearly four months so far working there.

One of the things I immediately learned when I got to Columbia is that parking is by seniority.  And since I have no seniority, I park in what’s known as the Z lot.   Let’s put it this way, I get good exercise walking to my office every morning.

But one of the perks of parking in the Z lot is that it is right near the Colonial Life Arena.  So on weeknights, I can leave my car in the lot, not pay the $5 for game parking and walk to the arena.  However, since I had a good ninety minutes to kill on Friday night, I went to what has become my new pre game hangout, the Thirsty Fellow, located across from the arena.

As I sat at my table with my pint of Newcastle and waiting for my meal, I was reading the Friday edition of the Daily Gamecock, the local student school newspaper.  On the back of the paper in the Sports section were two good stories about the basketball team both written by Paulina Berkovich, Assistant Sports Editor at the Daily Gamecock.

Her second story concerned how Coach Martin was looking for more offensive production to become as he put it “bowl-eligible” (winning their sixth game on the season).  In Berkovich’s article, Martin used a football analogy to describe his team’s communication problems.  “Right now, offensively, I’ll call for our tailback to run in the hole between the right guard and the right tackle.  Our offensive line is blocking as if we’re going to run in the hole between the left guard and the right.”  Martin then went onto explain in Berkovich’s article that bad communication has lead to bad execution.

Well, if Martin decided in practice to let Bruce Ellington instruct the team on a few football drills, it must have resonated with his team. The Gamecocks looked like Steve Spurrier’s run and shoot offense from the get go. They were aggressive and moved the ball around much better than they had done in previous games, especially against Clemson.

Leading the way was Michael Carrera, whose nice outlet pass to a Lakeem Jackson for a layup and one would make the score 5-2.  Carrera was all over the court in the first half, blocking shots, taking charges, rebounding, scoring baskets and assisting on others.  Carrera even got to be part of the maintenance crew during the game.  Late in the first half, he was involved in a scrum for a loose ball with Jacksonville’s Javon Dawson.  Jump ball was called.  Dawson came out of the pile with the ball.  Meanwhile,  Carrera grabbed a towel and cleaned the now slippery court.  He got a hand from the 6,980 in attendance for his cleanliness.

South Carolina jumped out quickly to an 11-2 lead on a three pointer by Brian Richardson and had Jacksonville reeling.  Ninety seconds into the game, the Dolphins had already four fouls as they couldn’t handle the Gamecocks’ intensity on both ends of the court.  In the first eleven minutes, South Carolina had a double digit lead several times.  But the Dolphins though hung around, cutting the deficit back into the single digits.  With just about nine minutes left in the first half, Jacksonville was only trailing 29-21.

Enter the subject of Berkovich’s main article in the Daily Gamecock Friday sports section, Brenton Williams.  In her article, Berkovich wrote about how Williams, after the loss to Clemson, asked Coach Martin for game tapes of Martin’s former Kansas State guards.  Williams wanted to see how the Wildcats’ guards played so he could play that way.  He impressed Martin who said “I thought that was a pretty powerful statement.”

Later in that article on Williams, Martin noted that “one of Williams’ biggest strengths is that he cares and he wants to improve.”   Williams is the Gamecocks leading scorer, averaging 13.6 points per game and leads the team in three point and free throw percentages.  He has done all this coming off the bench, providing the team a much needed spark early in the season.

Having seen Williams play several times this season, I can tell you that I am impressed with his mental and physical resiliency.  In their first home game of the season, Williams was benched by Martin early on against Wisconsin Milwaukee.  He didn’t come back into the game until late in the second half but he kept his head in the game.  When he did enter the game, he rallied his team to overtime and in extra regulation was a free throw shooting machine in the win over the Panthers.

Williams showed his physical resiliency by coming back and playing the next game after the scary incident at St John’s where a Red Storm player landed on him, resulting in a neck injury and an overnight stay in the hospital.

Williams again gave the Gamecocks a spark when they needed it.  He buried two straight three pointers which extended South Carolina’s lead back to double digits as they led now 35-21.  Jacksonville would briefly get the lead down to twelve points.  But that’s as close as the Dolphins would get the rest of the way.

The Gamecocks would outscore the Dolphins 22-7 over the last nine minutes to take a 57-30 lead at the half.   Carrera and Brian Richardson were already in double figures in scoring at the half.  Richardson would end up having a perfect night from beyond the arc, hitting all four of his three point attempts.

Earlier in the half during a media timeout, I was looking up into the rafters at all the banners.  I noticed a couple of Metro Conference championship banners.   Back in its heyday from the seventies to the early nineties, the Metro Conference was one of the premier basketball conferences with Louisville, Memphis, Cincinnati and Virginia Tech among its several schools. South Carolina was in the Metro from 1983-1991 before it left for the SEC.   The Metro merged with the Great Midwest to form Conference USA in 1995.   Just goes to show that conference realignment is not a recent fad and has been around for a long time.

In the second half, the game, to be honest, got ugly.   South Carolina, who looked so good on offense the first twenty minutes of the game, struggled to score.  In the first nine minutes, the Gamecocks only scored eleven points and didn’t score a basket for nearly six minutes.   Unfortunately for Jacksonville, the Dolphins only scored twelve points in the first nine minutes shooting four of fourteen during that time.  With eleven minutes left in the game, the Gamecocks were up 68-42.

Tempers started flaring during this time of ugly basketball.  A melee ensued at the South Carolina basket after a hard flagrant foul by Jacksonville’s Brian Powell with about fifteen and a half minutes left in the game.  Both teams were assessed double technical fouls.    It was also the start of unusual free throw drought for Ellington, who was a seventy seven percent free throw shooter last season, who missed four consecutive free throws.  

South Carolina would still be up by twenty six points, 89-63 after Williams hit his fourth three pointer of the game with two minutes left.  Martin would empty his bench from there putting in his reserves.  Jacksonville would make a late run due in part to some sloppy play by Martin’s bench and make the final score 91-72.

The Gamecocks had four players score in double figures led by Carrera’s nineteen points .  He just missed a double double with nine rebounds and had two blocks.  Richardson had a season high sixteen points.  Ellington had twelve points as did Williams, who had all his come from three pointers, as he shot four of five from beyond the arc.  Laimonas Chatkevicius added nine points while Eric Smith had seven assists and only one turnover.  The Gamecocks shot fifty five percent from the field and were ten of sixteen from beyond the arc.

With the win, the Gamecocks became “bowl eligible” at 6-3.  Their reward is to play in the Barclays Bowl in Brooklyn on December 22 to take on Manhattan (OK, they are just playing at the Barclays Center on December 22. It's not a bowl game, though it is part of a tripleheader).  Before that, they have a home game with Appalachian State on December 19 with an unusual start time of 5:00 PM.

Guess I am leaving work a few minutes early to catch the start of the 5:00 PM game at the Colonial Life Arena.  Good thing I can walk there.

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