Another Three-Game Skid
Stop me if you have heard this one before.. The Gamecocks have lost three in a row. For the 2nd time in the last 9 games, South Carolina is on a skid and this one can not be happening at a worse time. There are just 7 regular season games remaining, and as we laid it out in last week’s recap, the schedule is absolutely brutal. USC currently sits at 13-10 on the season, and are a lackluster 4-7 in SEC play after a rough 0-2 week in Colonial Life Arena where they were manhandled 81-57 Saturday by Tennessee and then let Kentucky pull away late to fall 86-76 on Tuesday night. Over these last 7 games, they’ll take on Georgia, Ole Miss, #25 LSU, a very good shooting Mississippi State team, a hot Alabama, Missouri, and the former #1 Auburn Tigers.
Needless to say, if it was high-pressure crunch time at this point last week, it is now a matter of life and death for the Gamecocks. They cannot afford to keep the losing skid going this week, especially with 2 games that we were already looking at as must-wins rather than just winnable games a week ago scheduled. Now that we’ve gotten that depressing fact out of the way, don’t worry Gamecock fans. I am about to make you even more forlorn (provided you still care or had any hope at this point haha)… Let’s recap the week.
Tennessee came to Columbia to face the Gamecocks in front of a national audience on CBS. The Vols didn’t have much of a problem laying a 20 point beating on Carolina in Knoxville back in January, and they didn’t face much of a challenge in this matchup either. The Volunteers established the tone of the game from the opening bell, jumping to a 12-7 lead in the first 4 minutes of the game on 4 three point shots. UT would shoot the 3 with high effectiveness all game long, shooting 51% from behind the arch, which really put Carolina behind the 8 ball. Still, the Gamecocks, as has been typical this season, didn’t just lie down in the face of early adversity. South Carolina managed to work their way into a brief 28-26 lead with around 5:00 left in the half before Tennessee rattled off a 7-2 run to close out the first half.
In that first half, USC shot just 10 of 30 from the field and 2 of 9 from 3 point range whereas Tennessee was 6 for 12 from three point range alone. But, in spite of all that, the Cocks trailed just 33-29 at the half. Tennessee went on a tear over the first 5 minutes of the 2nd half to put the game out of reach, popping off 4 out of 5 three bombs. The Vols would go on to finish the game with 14 threes, marking the 5th time in 7 games they had finished with double digits from downtown.
One of the biggest difference makers in the 2nd half was the added pressure from Tennessee, seeming like they couldn’t miss from three range. With the pressure, South Carolina struggled with rushing their shots. In the 2nd half, the Cocks went 7-24 from the floor (29 percent) and 3 of 10 from 3 point range (30%). In the game as a whole, the Gamecocks also could not pull down or take advantage of the few offensive boards they got, with just 10 offensive rebounds for a whopping 2 second chance points. USC also turned the ball over 13 times, giving up 17 points to the Vols off them. Just a poorly executed game for South Carolina where they were out shot while not getting out of their own way.
The recipe for success with this Gamecock team that I constantly keep coming back to is for Jermaine Couisnard to be confident and on it (and even better when Keyshawn Bryant is also), and for someone else to step up. They did not get any of that against the Volunteers. Jermaine played just 12 minutes and mustered a lousy 2 points. Keyshawn played 13 minutes and scored just 4. Only Erik Stevenson and Devin Carter managed to score in double figures, with 13 a piece.
Things didn’t get any easier as John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats came to town Tuesday night. First, let’s share a dose of reality. We all know UK is the much better team. The reality is that Carolina was never going to beat them. Even if this team was without its problems. Here’s another dose of reality… South Carolina didn’t get destroyed by them. The Gamecocks actually played 2 great halves of basketball for the first time this season against an opponent that is worth their weight in salt. By all intents and purposes, the Gamecocks should have gotten stomped. But, instead, they were in this game up until the waning minutes of the 2nd half. In the face of adversity, they responded and they responded well, which in all honesty can either be a fluke or it could be a positive sign that this team still has some fight left in them. I’ll choose the latter for now. (See. I CAN be positive…)
So, what happened that went right for South Carolina in this one? The keys to success fell into place. Jermaine Cuisnard and Keyshawn Bryant were both on fire. Bryant led all Gamecock scorers with a double double, tallying 18 points and 14 rebounds. Couisnard contributed with 17 points. One other Gamecock stepped up nicely – Wildens Leveque, who scored 16 points to go along with 7 rebounds. Not all credit can go to the Gamecocks though. UK turned the ball over 10 times in the first half, surrendering 14 points off of them to help Carolina stay in the game. Overall, South Carolina would tally 23 points off Kentucky miscues.
Time to go back to the “Negative Nelly” Jordan.. Despite everything coming together nearly perfect for the Gamecocks, Kentucky went on a 15-2 run in the 2nd half to all but put Carolina on ice. Kentucky finished with 6 players in double figures. They came up with 32 defensive rebounds. To top it all off, South Carolina once again had double digit turnovers for 13 Wildcat points.
To sum it up, no matter what happened, Kentucky was the better team and South Carolina failed to do the little things they needed to (along with the help of a great game from the “big guys”) in order to pull an upset against a much better team.
There is some good news for Carolina, depending on how you are looking at things right now. At this extra crucial point in the season, hope for a postseason is probably all but gone barring a miraculous streak. But, South Carolina still has a chance to either give themselves a shot to turn things around or to build for the future. They could also just completely fall apart. It all depends on what happens this week.
The Gamecocks will travel to Athens on Saturday (tip off at 2:00 on SEC Network) to take on a UGA team that has really struggled this season. Should the Gamecocks come out with the same drive and confidence they took to the court against Big Blue, they should have no problem in getting off the schneid. Everyone just has to do their due diligence as far as the keys to success go.
Then they will go to Oxford on Tuesday night for a 7:00 PM tilt with the Rebels (televised on ESPNU). Ole Miss is almost in the same boat as the Gamecocks, at .500 on the season and really struggling in the SEC. It is a winnable game. Not only that, but along with the UGA game, it is a must-win for any chance at righting the ship.
If the Gamecocks come out flat and continue the losing skid, this season will definitely be a lost cause. To be honest, it really probably is a lost cause either way. But, regardless of what happens, the future of the program will be set over the next couple of weeks. We know they will give it a fight. We know they will handle the adversity. But, we also know that just merely fighting not to get blown out or rallying late, especially in the SEC, will not win many games. It will not be enough. But, it is up to the Gamecocks what to make of things from here out.
Will we see the end of Frank Martin’s tenure? Will he do enough to stick around with something to build on for next year (not that he has shown himself able to do that)? Time will only tell.