Gamecocks at Half Way Point
We have reached the halfway point of the 2021-2022 regular season for South Carolina with Frank Martin’s Gamecocks sitting at 10-5 overall. Not at all bad given the amount of injuries and covid-19 protocols they have had to work through since the season started. It has only been in the last 2 weeks that they have finally been able to play with a full roster available. Yet, they have managed to continue the usual Frank Martin trend of scrapping their way to a couple of impressive close wins like their 66-65 W over Florida State back on December 12th, and their 72-70 victory over Vanderbilt up in Nashville this past Saturday. They have also managed to dominate in a few games they were supposed to such as D-2 Allen University, whom the Gamecocks drubbed 110-51 back in mid December and Army, whom they smashed 105-75. They have taken care of business in all their other non-conference games.
All of that is what we come to expect from the Gamecocks over the last few years. But, here is the one thing that stands out so far. We have not seen as many of the embarrassing non-conference losses that leave Carolina fans pulling their hair out in frustration or as much of the antics from Coach Martin in regards to player discipline that we have over the last few years.
South Carolina has only been beaten badly by teams they should beat (knock on wood) 3 times in the early going. Princeton used effective 3 point shooting to upset the Gamecocks 66-62 in the Asheville Championship in their 2nd game of the season. South Carolina struggled mightily, shooting just 20 of 70 from the field in an 80-56 blowout loss to a scrappy, but still beatable Coastal Carolina. With just 8 players available for Carolina due to key players being out with covid and injuries, Clemson outrebounded and outshot their way to a 70-56 win in the annual rivalry tussle, which you almost can’t even get too upset with given the circumstances.
Are those types of losses bad? Yes. Are they frustrating? Heck yes. But, compared to losing to Boston University, Northern Iowa, and Stetson like they did in 2019 (the last time they played a full non-conference slate prior to the pandemic-riddled 2020-2021 season), it is a step in the right direction.
At the midpoint of the regular season, Erik Stevenson continues to lead the Gamecocks in scoring with 170 points, 40 assists, and 71 rebounds, having been the only player to start and play in all 15 games. James Reese is the team’s 2nd leading scorer with 132 points across all 13 games he has both played and started. Wildens Leveque has been a rebounding machine for Carolina with 77 total, and is third on the team in scoring with 126 points. He along with Keyshawn Bryant have been big on defense for the Gamecocks so far, combining for 27 blocks,19 steals, and 56 defensive rebounds.
Over the last week, South Carolina split 2 games in conference play. Saturday, they traveled to Memorial Gymnasium in Nashville to take on Vanderbilt. The Gamecocks were fresh off an 81-66 loss to a very good top 10 ranked Auburn last Tuesday and they had 2 looming questions coming in. Keyshawn Bryant had injured his shoulder after a hard fall against Auburn. He was medically cleared to play after scans revealed no structural damage. But, he was listed as questionable for this game. He did not start, but did play 11:43 off the bench, contributing with 6 points and a steal. The other question was whether or not the Gamecocks would be able to limit Scotty Pippen Jr’s ability to drive the ball and beat them inside. Ultimately, they did manage to keep him from being a big factor for most of the game. Pippen finished with 17 points, with 15 of those coming in the 2nd half.
This game was a nailbiter, but not until the waning moments of the game. South Carolina shot 64% from the floor in the first half compared to Vanderbilt’s 38%, and that was a key to helping the Gamecocks hold on. Overall, Vanderbilt stayed in the game with better 3 point shooting than South Carolina. The Commodores shot 36.4% from downtown compared to just 17.6% for Carolina. The Gamecocks also took advantage of Vandy’s mistakes, with 24 points off 19 Commodore turnovers.
Carolina was led by Wildens Leveque and James Reese, who combined for 23 points, 5 rebounds, an assist, and 2 blocks. An interesting point of note is that everybody that played for the Gamecocks scored, with a combined 30 points from the bench as South Carolina held on to win 72-70.
On Tuesday night, the Gamecocks once again hit the road to the Volunteer State for a date with Tennessee in Knoxville. Things got off to a sluggish start, which meant a low scoring first half. The Gamecocks led for most of it until the 2:00 mark when the game was tied at 22. Tennessee went on a 12-2 run and that spark gave them all the momentum they needed to take control. In the end, South Carolina turned the ball over 23 times (matching a season high), which resulted in 21 points for the Vols. The Gamecocks also were outshot in the field, going just 17 of 49 (34%) while Tennessee shot 24-55 from the floor (43%).
James Reese led the way for South Carolina with 15 points and 5 rebounds while nobody else came close to double figures pointwise. Two of the 5 starters didn’t score a single point in the game, while Jermaine Couisnard and Erik Stevenson combined for 6 points and 5 assists in the 66-46 loss.
I feel like I am going a bit out of order here, but I would be remiss not to give an assessment of how I feel the Gamecocks are doing here at the halfway point. If I were to give the Gamecocks a midseason grade, it’s a B-. They have done what they are supposed to. They have played fairly well through circumstances. They are definitely not a bad team, but they are not where anyone would like them to be. Basically, they are just a little above average, meeting expectations for the most part and showing signs of improvement when it comes to avoiding those annoying bad losses. But, there is a lot more they need to work on to ensure they can be a tournament-worthy team this season.