Gamecocks Beat Georgia, Prepare for A&M
Simply put, South Carolina seemed to have found a new way to be their own worst enemy – foul trouble. South Carolina had 11 team fouls in the first half alone, and UGA took advantage of that to the fullest. The Bulldogs shot 21-22 from the freethrow line (a whopping 95%) in the opening 20 minutes of the ballgame, which paired with South Carolina’s struggles shooting the ball, opened up a double-digit advantage. The Gamecocks did well to fight their way back to where they trailed by just 6 at the half.
The second half was where the stepping up happened for USC. After UGA opened up a 60-53 lead coming up on the 10:00 mark in the half, Keyshawn Bryant started a huge rally for the Gamecocks that would be the key to a huge 24-0 run that would turn the tide for good when he hit a free throw followed by a 3 point play. He went on to score 8 more on another 3 point play, a 3 point shot, and a jumper to account for half of the run himself. He stepped up big time with 19 points. But, he is not the only one. Erik Stevenson was a key to keeping South Carolina in the game late in the 1st half after UGA opened up the double digit advantage, and also a big contributor to the 24-0 run, as he led the team in scoring with 20 points, going 3-7 from behind the arch and 6 of 11 from the field, helping USC come back to beat Georgia 83-66 for their 11th straight win over the Bulldogs.
One of the biggest positives for the Gamecocks in the UGA game was that Jermaine Couisnard got some of his confidence back. Besides somebody stepping up when a teammate is struggling, a key to getting out of the rut as a team is to have your veterans be playing and leading with confidence. Jermaine had been slumping so hard that Frank (in my opinion) unwisely benched him against Arkansas last Wednesday. Against UGA, Jermaine hit back to back layups in transition to help propel South Carolina to the lead as a part of that massive mid 2nd half run, and scored 10 of his 15 points during it. Make no mistake about it, while having Jermaine on the court at all is a boost for Carolina, they are leaps and bounds better when he is on it and feeling confident in himself. They are also at their best when he and Keyshawn Bryant are both playing hot. Luckily for the Gamecocks the stars aligned for that at a crucial point where they desperately needed it.
Wednesday night, South Carolina hosted Vanderbilt, whom they had already faced 3 weeks ago in Nashville, and held on to beat 72-70 in a close battle where the Gamecocks managed to hold the Commodores’ leading scorer Scotty Pippen Jr under 20 points (17, 15 of which he scored late in the 2nd half). This game played out much the same way. Neither team was worried about playing a quick tempo, as they ran a lot of ball screens and passed around the perimeter, not trying to drive the lane until they either got an opening or the shot clock was getting low. It seemed as if the first half dragged on forever, and that it was going to be a football score at the half.
For South Carolina, their recurrent issues continued. Not only did they once again get off to a slow start, but they also struggled to shoot, and unlike last time, Scotty came to play. Pippen Jr. had 14 of his team-leading 24 points in the first half alone. In the game as a whole, he went 8-17 from the field, and South Carolina didn’t help their case by fouling him a lot, allowing him to go 7 of 8 from the charity stripe on the night. Vandy, like UGA on Saturday, built up a double digit advantage, and would lead by 6 at the half before once again, somebody stepped up for USC when they needed it most.
The Gamecocks ended the 1st half on a 3:18 scoring drought, which carried over for almost the first 5:00 of the 2nd. Enter our heroes.. After South Carolina switched to more of a zone defense, Vanderbilt turned the ball over several times and went on a near 3 minute drought of their own. During that time span, the Gamecocks went on an 11-0 run to take the lead. James Reese stepped in, and combined with a strong shooting effort from Erik Stevenson and another confident outing from Jermaine Couisnard, who had 14 points off the bench for Carolina, the Gamecocks were able to walk away with a 2nd consecutive conference win and a regular season sweep of the Commodores 70-61.
James Reese V led Carolina with 19 points while Erik Stevenson tallied 13. With the help of Couisnard’s 14 points, the USC bench combined for 31 points. All that suffices to say that, once again, South Carolina is at their best when Jermaine is playing and playing with confidence. It also suffices to say that James Reese and Erik Stevenson were the ones to step up and answer the bell for Carolina to help them find a way to win again.
Ok. So they have now won 2 in a row. That is great. Does that mean they have turned the corner? Does it mean the Frank Martin problem can be ignored? Absolutely not. It is too early to say after 2 games they still struggled in that they should not have. The Gamecocks still have a long way to go in order to get to where they really should be. But, it is certainly a much more hopeful outlook than we had at this time last week. What will be interesting is to see how long Jermaine can stay hot and to see who will be that proverbial “next man up”. As far as Frank goes, this is about the equivalent to when the Braves manage to find a way to win in those moments where Brian Snitker turns into “Brain Snotker” (his evil twin that doesn’t manage a bullpen correctly at times). They have won a couple, but it was more like despite Frank rather than because of him.
South Carolina will look to keep the streak alive Saturday as they travel to Texas A&M to do battle with an Aggies team that will present a bit of a test to them, even if they are on a 3 game losing skid. Tip off is set for 8:30 on the SEC Network. They’ll continue the road trip on Tuesday at Mississippi State with another tall task against a 13-6 Bulldog squad that has only lost 1 game at home all year. Tip-off there is at 7:00 on ESPNU.