The Daily Gamecock

Men's basketball wins 4-straight games

Gamecocks lose first 2 SEC contests to LSU, Florida over break

While South Carolina students were enjoying their month off in-between semesters, there was no rest for the men’s basketball team.

The Gamecocks (7-8, 0-2 SEC) wrapped up their nonconference schedule while USC’s campus sat empty and the team got their first two SEC contests under their belt in the process. The team played 10 games over the break, emerging with a 5-5 record over that time span.

Though the start of SEC play has proven frustrating for Frank Martin’s team, the second-year head coach thinks the nonconference schedule did its job in preparing South Carolina for conference play.

“Our league is hard,” Martin said. “And the challenge in nonconference play should be to prepare your team to deal with your conference season.”

The Gamecocks’ first SEC losses came from the Florida Gators when they stomped South Carolina 74-58, and the second SEC loss at home against LSU in a down to the wire battle that the Tigers won 71-68.

Martin said Saturday’s loss to LSU was especially disappointing considering the fan support at Colonial Life Arena was the best he’d seen in his tenure at South Carolina.

Despite the two early slip-ups in conference play, the break did provide some reason for optimism in the Gamecock locker room. The team earned an eye-opening win over perennial postseason contender Saint Mary’s in the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic and later reeled off a four-game win streak.

“When you win some games, it makes your kids feel better,” Martin said. “So when you’re in a difficult moment, in that next game you’re playing, they feel good about their team because they’ve had positive results.”

South Carolina’s four-consecutive victories saw the team close out its stay in Hawaii with a win over Akron, only to travel back to Columbia to earn another victory over Akron followed by wins over Marshall and South Carolina State.

Junior guard Tyrone Johnson attributed the Gamecocks’ success towards the end of the nonconference season to a team-wide maturation as the year progressed.

“I think earlier in the year, we didn’t find ourselves as a team,” Johnson said. “We didn’t kind of do what coach asked us to do. But now, coming into SEC play, we’ve been doing those things.”

Johnson, along with senior guard Brenton Williams, will be forced to assume increased leadership rolls for the duration of the season with the announcement that Bruce Ellington will enter the NFL Draft and forgo his final basketball and football seasons.

During the break, Williams made a statement with his play that he is ready to take the reigns in his fellow senior’s absence.

The shooting guard has averaged over 15 points per game in South Carolina’s last six outings, including a performance against Akron that saw him make six of nine three-point attempts and finish with 24 points.

“I feel like I’ve turned the corner pretty well,” Williams said. “It’s mainly because my teammates are doing a great job finding me on the floor and I’m paying attention to what the coaches are asking me to do.”

With the meat of the conference season ahead of them, the Gamecocks face an uphill climb to the top of the SEC as they currently sit in last place of the conference with just two games down.

But Martin said South Carolina’s postseason goals are still attainable with a long conference schedule ahead. The coach even went as far as to bring up college basketball’s promised land ­­­­— March Madness — an attitude that is exactly why Martin was hired two years ago.

“Everyone’s goal is to win the league, but if you don’t win the league, you prepare to finish up there,” Martin said. “So if you do, then you get in that big dance. And once you’re in that big dance, it’s all systems go. It’s the experience of a lifetime.”


Trending Now

Send a Tip Get Our Email Editions