Saturday, February 8, 2014

No Help on D Means No Win for South Carolina (Recap of Auburn v. South Carolina)

Last Saturday, South Carolina was up 61-46 on Ole Miss with a little less than eleven minutes in the game.   The Rebels would go on a 29-10 run the rest of the way to again barely beat the Gamecocks 75-71.   Two weeks earlier, Ole Miss had rallied from a double digit halftime deficit to edge South Carolina 75-74.   After so painfully losing a close game for a second time to the team that won the SEC Tournament last season, Frank Martin's team looked to rebound against Auburn Wednesday night.

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.

The only thing that kept the Gamecocks in the game in the first half was the continued torrid scoring of Brenton Williams.  Williams, who had thirty two points in the loss last Saturday to the Rebels, would score eleven first half points to keep South Carolina close, 38-35 at the half.   He has become the Gamecocks' main scoring threat this season.

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.

Auburn was scoring at will on South Carolina, as the Tigers made nine of their first eleven shots in the second half.  Try as they might, Notice and Sindarius Thornwell could not handle guarding Denson and Harrell one on one.  But that's OK if you are getting help on defense.

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".

But a Shamsid-Deen dunk would put Auburn back up 64-62.  Notice had a chance to tie the game, but missed one of two free throws to make the score 64-63.  From there it was the Denson and Harrell show.  Denson made a three point play and then later hit two free throws to put Auburn up 69-63.  Then Harrell scored the Tigers' next eight points to keep the Auburn lead at six, 77-71.   The Gamecocks would get within three, 77-74 with twenty three seconds left on what else, a Williams three pointer.  But that was the last points on the game for South Carolina as Auburn won 79-74.

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.

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