Monday, November 25, 2013

Better Scoring Balance, Better Results for Gamecocks (Recap of Florida International vs. South Carolina Game)

Coming off consecutive road losses to Baylor, 66-64 and Clemson, 71-57, South Carolina was looking to rebound with some home cooking when they hosted Florida International on Sunday afternoon.  In each of the losses to the Bears and the Tigers, the Gamecocks had only two players score in double figures. In the loss vs. Baylor, Sindarius Thornwell had 20 points and Brenton Williams added 12 points.  In the loss vs. Clemson, Mindaugas Kacinas had 13 and Thornwell added 10 points.

In 1970, the Moody Blues released the album "Question of Balance", which includes one of my all time favorite songs, "Question".  However, I don't think Justin Hayward, John Lodge and the other band members had balanced college basketball scoring in mind when they released the album forty three years ago.  But the album title is appropriate for the Gamecocks, in which the past season and the recent two games against Baylor and Clemson have highlighted a common problem; a lack of balanced double figures scoring.

Last season, only one player, Brenton Williams, averaged double figures in scoring for the entire season.  The lack of balanced scoring resulted in the Gamecocks averaging 66 points per game, which was eighth in the SEC in 2012-13.  However, when you are twelfth in the SEC in scoring defense at 68.9 points per game, you're not going to win many games in conference.  And thus, the Gamecocks only won four games in the SEC all season.

This season, the Gamecocks returned fifty two percent of their scoring, but that was really only five players - Williams, Kacinas, Michael Carrera, Bruce Ellington and Laimonas Chatkevicius.  So it was very important that the eight new players recruited by Coach Frank Martin would bring some much needed scoring punch, along with Martin's trademark defense from his days at Kansas State.  But after three games, the Gamecocks only had two players in double figures scoring - Tyrone Johnson and Thornwell.  And South Carolina as a whole was averaging 68 points per game.  In other words, once again the Gamecocks had a "Question of Balance".

South Carolina was hosting a Florida International team that had won six straight games after losing its first two games.   The Golden Panthers had a very interesting off season, as their coach Richard Pitino left to take the Minnesota Gophers head coaching position.  Pitino tried to take a few FIU players with him.  Malik Smith, who as a junior averaged fourteen points per game was allowed to transfer to Minnesota, due to FIU being banned from postseason play this season due to a poor APR under previous head coach Isaiah Thomas (as you can see Thomas not only damaged the Knicks, but the Golden Panthers as well).  However, forward Rakeem Buckles was not allow to transfer to Minnesota, as Florida International denied his transfer request.

Florida International hired Anthony Evans, formerly the coach of Norfolk State (and known for their famous upset of Missouri in the 2012 NCAA Tournament) to replace Pitino.  And Evans already had his own crisis to deal with as guard Raymond Taylor was not available to play against the Gamecocks due to a question of his eligibility after pulling out of the past NBA draft.

The announced crowd of 9,869 saw the Gamecocks take an early 7-3 lead as Kacinas and Demetrius Henry combined for all seven points.   But the Golden Panthers responded with Buckles scoring seven of the first eleven FIU points.  A Buckles jumper gave the Golden Panthers an 11-9 lead.

But one of the new players Martin brought in to help add scoring, freshman guard Jaylen Shaw, highlighted the Gamecocks' new three point shooting prowess.  Shaw buried two three pointers in a row, then later, Johnson and Williams added three pointers to put the Gamecocks up 23-19.

The Golden Panthers answered with a 10-2 run, with Marco Porcher Jiminez scoring six of their points.  FIU was back up 29-25 with 7:56 left in the half.   The Gamecocks, who were last in the SEC last season in FG percentage defense at 45.2 percent, allowed the Golden Panthers to hit on ten of their first fourteen shots.

FIU was still up four, 31-27 with less than six minutes left in the half when South Carolina went on a 12-4 spurt, which included two three pointers by Shaw and Carrera.  The Gamecocks were back up 39-35 with 1:44 left in the half.  But the Golden Panthers scored the last seven points in the half, five by forward Tymell Murphy.   FIU led at halftime 42-39.

The second half started with Florida International actually extending their lead to their largest of the game, five, 44-39 on two Jerome Frink free throws.  South Carolina would score the next six points, the last of which came on a Kacinas layup to put the Gamecocks back in front, 45-44.  However, the Golden Panthers would regain the lead twice over the next four minutes, leading 51-49 with thirteen minutes left in the game.

From there, South Carolina would take command, outscoring Florida International 12-4 over the next three minutes, as Shaw and Williams both buried three pointers in the run.  Williams' three pointer made the score 61-55 with ten minutes left in the game.  The Golden Panthers would hang around however, as Dominique Williams and Murphy each hit three pointers to cut the deficit to two, 63-61 with eight and a half minutes left.

But FIU would not get any closer.  The Gamecocks clamped down on the Golden Panthers, as FIU would not score a field goal for more than six and a half minutes and only scored thirty points in the entire second half.  By the time Florida International finally scored on a basket by Jiminez, the score was 69-65 South Carolina with 1:53 left in the game.  The Gamecocks would hit thirteen of fifteen free throws the rest of the way and Thornwell ended the scoring with an emphatic dunk as South Carolina would win 84-72.

The Gamecocks shot fifty percent from the field, including eight of nineteen from beyond the arc.  The key was South Carolina had four players in double figures scoring.  Johnson led USC with eighteen points, while Shaw and Williams each had sixteen points, with Shaw hitting four three pointers.  Henry added fourteen points for the Gamecocks.  Kacinas nearly had a double double with nine points and nine rebounds.  FIU also had four scorers in double figures as Murphy led all scorers with 22 points, Jiminez added 15, Buckles had 11 and Dennis Maven added 10 points.

For one afternoon, at least scoring wise, the Gamecocks had no question of balance. The only question now is whether a relatively young South Carolina team can be consistent in their play with a long way left in the season.

As far as a Moody Blues album title that covers that, well there is  "Long Distance Voyager".

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