Friday, December 20, 2013

Gamecocks' Struggles Continue (Recap of USC Upstate vs. South Carolina)

After their eighteen point loss to Manhattan at home Tuesday night, which was their second double digit loss in a row, you thought things could not get worse for South Carolina.  Then yesterday afternoon, word came out that Michael Carrera was suspended for the afternoon game vs. USC Upstate, due to a "post-game altercation".  Carrera had just finally got going for the Gamecocks, scoring ten points in the second half vs. the Jaspers.  The Carrera suspension turned out to be a harbinger for the game against the Spartans.

South Carolina definitely knew their opponent was capable of winning on the road.  USC Upstate won their first game of the season at Virginia Tech 64-63.  The 5-5 Spartans also had neutral site wins over Niagara and Western Carolina.  They lost only by nine points at Tennessee.  Plus the Spartans had three players that averaged in double figures; Torrey Craig, Ty Greene and Ricardo Glenn, who combined average nearly forty five points and fifteen rebounds per game.

Perhaps Frank Martin thought his team might better respond to the Manhattan loss if they were the road team. So he had his Gamecocks dress in road black while USC Upstate wore the home whites.

The road uniforms did not bring any luck early in the contest as it seemed that there was a giant lid on both baskets.  After six plus minutes, USC Upstate was only up 5-4.   Each team missed on nine of their first eleven shots.   The Gamecocks also had three turnovers in the span of forty seconds.

Finally, South Carolina got going on a three pointer by Sindarius Thornwell.  It was the start of a 13-1 run for the Gamecocks.  A Laimonas Chatkevicius tip in put South Carolina up 17-6.  During that stretch, Chatkevicius, Thornwell and Duane Notice combined for all thirteen points.

After a couple of Craig free throws cut the lead to nine, the Gamecocks responded with another spurt.  South Carolina buried three shots from beyond the arc in a five and a half minute period, with Brenton Williams hitting two three pointers.  Mindaugas Kacinas hit one of two free throws to cap the 16-8 run as the Gamecocks went up 33-16 with 4:51 left in the half.

Just then I was about to type the following tweet on @gmoore21566 - "I know USC Upstate won at Virginia Tech.  But based on the first 15 minutes, I cannot see how they did."   And it was due in large part to the Spartans horrible shot selection.   Greene, the Spartans' second leading scorer missed all four of his three point attempts.  Craig was taking wild shots, which obviously were also not falling.

But still I thought better of sending the tweet because a) basketball is a game of runs and b) South Carolina has shown a propensity to go into a major scoring funk and give up early leads (see Manhattan).

I was so glad I held off on that tweet.   Over the last four minutes, the Spartans went on a 17-4 run.  Ricardo Glenn was getting easy looks inside for layups while Craig, Fred Miller and Karim Mawuenyega nailed three pointers.   Meanwhile, the Gamecocks missed nine of their eleven shots during that period of time and Thornwell added two turnovers to boot.  South Carolina stumbled to the half only up four, 37-33.

There were two underlying problems brewing for the Gamecocks at halftime.  First, the South Carolina bigs had foul trouble. Desmond Ringer and Demetrius Henry each picked up two quick fouls and Chatkevicius picked up three fouls.  With Carrera already out, the Gamecocks had only one forward not in foul trouble, Kacinas and he was the smallest of all their forwards.

Second, the Spartans were only down four, despite not getting any production from their second leading scorer.  Greene, who came into the game averaging fifteen points per game, was scoreless in the first twenty minutes.  Glenn, who had ten first half points and Craig with nine, made up for the lack of production from Greene, who seemingly graduated from the John Starks School of Shooting ("If you miss several times, no matter how ugly, keep on shooting").

The Gamecocks started out well in the second half with Ellington burying a three to put his team up seven.  Later, Tyrone Johnson added two free throws to extend the South Carolina lead to eight, 42-34 with fifteen minutes left in the game.  It looked like that maybe Frank Martin's team had weathered the Spartans' big run.

But then in the span of minute, Henry picked up two fouls, giving him four on the game.  Then Ringer, who had already picked up his third foul two minutes into the second half,  picked up his fourth foul with a little under thirteen minutes left. Chatkevicius would pick up his fourth foul four minutes later.  Outside of Kacinas, the whole Gamecock front court was in serious foul trouble.

And the Spartans took advantage, going on a 12-3 run over the next four minutes.  Greene started the scoring, hitting his first basket of the game, a three pointer.  The rest of the USC Upstate points were scored on layups.  A ShunQuez Stephens layup put the Spartans up 46-45.

The Gamecocks regained the lead on a Thornwell jumper, then two Johnson free throws put them up three, 49-46.  The Spartans answered with a Mawuenyega three and a free throw each by Miller and Stephens to go up 51-49.  Williams and Thornwell responded with three free throws and the Gamecocks were back up one, 52-51 with seven and a half minutes left.

But the Spartans three leading scorers on the season, Craig, Greene and Glenn would combine forces to put the game away for USC Upstate.  Glenn, having his way inside with all the Gamecock foul trouble, hit a layup to put the Spartans up to stay, 53-52.  It was the start of a 10-2 spurt that ended with an emphatic Craig putback dunk with a little under five minutes left to give USC Upstate a 61-54 lead.

The Gamecocks tried to rally, cutting the deficit to two, 63-61 on an Ellington three pointer with a little over three minutes left.  But Greene responded with a three pointer of his own to put the Spartans up five.  After Thornwell hit another jumper to cut the lead to three, the Gamecocks forced a turnover.  With a chance to tie the game, Ellington missed an open corner three.

The Spartans would not score on their next possession and two Johnson free throws got the lead down to one, 66-65 with 1:21 left.  But the Gamecocks again could not stop the Spartans from scoring inside.  Miller hit a layup and one, then hit the foul shot to put USC Upstate up four, 69-65.   The Gamecocks had three chances to cut into the Spartans lead, but they missed on all three of their shots behind the arc.

When Miller broke free on an inbounds play for a dunk, that sealed the game for USC Upstate, who went on to win 74-68 to give the Gamecocks their second home non-conference loss in a row.  The Gamecocks only lost one non conference home game all last season.

Glenn was a force inside for the Spartans.  He had a double double, scoring 21 points, grabbing 14 rebounds and added five assists.  He shot eight of twelve from the floor as the Gamecocks had no answer for him.  Craig added thirteen points. Miller and Greene each had ten points, with all of Greene's points coming in the second half.

Thornwell led the Gamecocks with nineteen points, Johnson added eleven and Ellington and Williams each had eight points.  The four players combined to shoot an ugly 14 of 46, including 7 of 27 from beyond the arc. South Carolina shot thirty three percent from the field and also committed twenty four fouls, two days after committing twenty three fouls vs. Manhattan.

My friend Ian McCormick, known as HPUFAN on Twitter, sat with me during the second half.  He appropriately tweeted  in the second half  "If you can't handle Upstate's big men, just wait for SEC play."  And that summed up the game yesterday.  The Gamecocks big men could not handle Glenn, who coming into yesterday's contest had only been averaging six rebounds per game.

Having watched Martin's team the past two seasons, the Gamecocks remind me somewhat of Tom Pecora's team in his second season at Hofstra.  His Hofstra teams went a combined 19-40 and in fact he had less wins in his second season, eight, than his first, eleven.  But it was a young team and in his third season, the turnaround began with fourteen wins and an above .500 record in conference. Then in the next three seasons, Hofstra won a combined sixty nine games and made three straight NITs.

Of course the ultimate goal is to make the NCAA Tournament, not the NIT.  But the main goal is to turn the program around.  Dawn Staley's teams won a combined twenty four games the first two seasons.  Look at where the Gamecock Women's Basketball team is now.

Martin and the Gamecock fan base will need to be patient.  As John Hiatt might say, sometimes it's "A slow turnin.  But you come about."

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