ORANGEBURG, SC — South Carolina State trailed North Carolina Central by nine points when Murray Garvin signaled for a timeout with 16.5 seconds remaining in the first half of Mondays game.
In his third game as S.C. States coach, Garvin looked every bit as polished and cool under pressure as Dukes Mike Krzyzewski. As Garvin huddled his team, he quietly mapped out a play for S.C. State to score and keep the Bulldogs within striking distance of the MEACs top team.
Just like about everything else with the basketball program at S.C. State these days, it fell apart when the team returned to the court. A trapping N.C. Central defense forced a turnover and converted it into a fast-break layup. An 11-point halftime deficit proved insurmountable.
Still, there was no screaming at his team by Garvin. He did not storm off the court. In Garvins view, no amount of berating or finger-pointing is going to change the fortunes of S.C. State basketball.
Instead, shortly after S.C. States 19th loss of the season, Garvin was all smiles. He talked glowingly of his young teams effort. He sang the praises of a club that played hard to the end of the 19-point defeat.
Confidence. Confidence, Garvin said. Were trying to pour confidence into our guys to let them know we believe in what they can do on the court and try to free them up a little bit: To say, Hey, its a new season, just to relax them and get their confidence flowing.
It is easy to see why his team would lack confidence. A program-worst 5-26 record a season ago, a 25-game losing streak in the MEAC and a head coach who resigned with eight games remaining in the regular season would shake the belief of any team.
Yet Garvin, who stepped up from his job as an assistant to replace the departed Tim Carter, believes he can turn things around at S.C. State. He believes S.C. State again can compete for conference championships and, occasionally, play in the NCAA tournament.
Were going to have success on a regular basis, Garvin says. Its just going to take us some time.
Carter resigned late in his sixth season at S.C. State with one year remaining on his contract. His teams posted a 67-108 record that included the first winless MEAC season (2011-12) in a quarter of a century. The program has slid to the bottom of the NCAA heap, its current RPI is at 342 among 347 Division I teams after previous season RPIs of 335 and 343.
In finding a replacement for Carter, Charlene Johnson, S.C. States athletics director, decided to try something different. Instead of going outside Carter had been a head coach at Texas-San Antonio Johnson looked down the S.C. State bench to find Garvin.
Johnson said Garvin will finish the season and has been handed a one-year contract for next season. She said it is important to the athletics department and to the university for the football and mens basketball programs to experience success. At a school in financial crisis with dwindling enrollment, athletics accomplishments can provide a morale boost for the student body.
Financially, an NCAA tournament appearance can mean an additional $300,000 to the athletics budget, which would cover a big chunk of the basketball coffers, according to Johnson.
It has been done before at S.C. State. By virtue of winning the MEAC tournament, S.C. State made NCAA tournament appearances in 1989, 1996, 1998, 2000 and 2003 under coach Cy Alexander, now the head man at North Carolina A&T. All but three of Alexanders 16 S.C. State teams from 1987 through 2003 finished first or second in the MEAC. Five of those teams won at least 20 games.
Alexander says success comes at schools such as S.C. State through creative recruiting to navigate financial shortcomings. That starts and ends with building relationships with high school coaches in the state, mostly through the prep team camps held at S.C. State each summer.
My thing was to develop relationships with people, Alexander said. This whole recruiting deal is about relationships. The people are going to send their kids to people they trust.
Garvin said he is up for the challenge. He grew up in basketball-crazy Kentucky, attended Eastern Kentucky and served as an assistant at Charleston Southern and Winston-Salem State before joining Carters staff at S.C. State a season ago.
At 39, Garvin possesses youthful exuberance and a charm about him that should play well to high school coaches around the state as well as prospective players. His sunny disposition and positive reinforcement has made a difference with this team.
A week ago, S.C. State ended a 15-game losing streak and halted the three-season MEAC skid with a 2-point victory against Alexanders N.C. A&T squad. Afterward, in the S.C. State locker room, Garvin said his team celebrated as if it had won the Super Bowl.
Being the eternal optimist, Garvin told his team to get used to the feeling.