There wasn’t much to say, besides the standard phrases of “youth,” long season” and “inexperienced.”
The bottom line was, there was no good way to explain how South Carolina lost to USC Upstate on Thursday, 74-68. The Gamecocks lost to the Spartans for the first time, lost their second straight game at home and their third in a row overall.
For a season that hoped to bring excitement for the future, the ground floor is awfully rocky.
“When we had a chance to rattle them, we didn’t. That’s the bug we’re fighting right now,” coach Frank Martin said. “What am I going to do? Dwell on it? Panic? What do you think all those freshmen are going to do if I panic right now? I know we’re in a marathon race. The young kids don’t understand that yet.”
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What they do understand — and are fighting — is the frustration about another defeat.
“Just as a team, we just “ Ty Johnson paused as he shook his head. “We’ve just got to stick together. We’re not blaming nobody. There’s a point in time where we’ve all got to take a look in the mirror, and we’ve got to help each other.”
Upstate forward Ricardo Glenn had a monster game, with 22 points, 14 rebounds, two blocks and five assists. That spelled the loss of Torrey Craig, the Spartans’ best player, who had a horrid shooting performance (3-for-12) and scored 13. With all of USC’s frontline in foul trouble, Glenn took advantage.
The Gamecocks (2-5) couldn’t buy a basket, hitting 33.3 percent from the floor for the game and making 10 field goals in the second half. They hoisted 3-pointer after 3-pointer with no big men to throw the ball to, and hit 8-of-29.
A young team about to play three games in four days against solid mid-majors in Hawaii didn’t need a two-game home losing streak before leaving. Yet, that’s what USC faces.
“Our frustration shouldn’t be about winning or losing, our frustration should be about our immaturities,” Martin said. “That’s something that we can control. We’ve got to get better there.”
The Gamecocks raced to a quick start, riding the crest of USC Upstate’s 10 missed 3-pointers before the Spartans (6-5) made one. By that time, USC was leading 33-22 and had been up by 17 points.
That’s where it began to go wrong. The Spartans turned the deficit into four points at halftime. Bruce Ellington canned a 3-pointer for the Gamecocks’ first field goal in the second half and a 40-33 lead, but that was the last bit of momentum USC could grasp.
The Spartans worked on bigs Desmond Ringer, Laimonas Chatkevicius and Demetrius Henry as Glenn was on his way to a career-high. The Gamecocks’ guards had nobody under the rim to throw to and were forced to rely on the talent of Sindarius Thornwell; he scored 19 but shot 6-of-18.
Mostly, the Gamecocks played the perimeter game, waiting for a 3-point shot to open, and then mostly missed them.Upstate was only too happy to take the long rebounds and break to the hole. Mario Blessing did a fine job of driving the paint and dishing to Glenn at the last second, and Ty Greene scored all 10 of his points in the second half. The Spartans took a five-point lead before Ellington led a brief comeback; the Gamecocks were trailing 66-65 with 1:21 to go after two Johnson free throws.
But Fred Miller converted a three-point play, and Thornwell missed a long off-balance 3 to settle the game. USC trudged to the locker room, and on to Hawaii, with not much merry in its Christmas.
Martin seemed upbeat, stressing that he knew what he was doing when he deliberately scheduled a tough slate. Realizing that last year’s hot start devolved into a tailspin, he’s hoping for the opposite this year.
There isn’t another way to go.
“We’ve got to understand what reality’s about,” Martin said. “Are we going to embrace that, or are we going to run away from that? That will determine who we become in February, March. We knew what we signed up for.”
Forward Michael Carrera was suspended for the game because of his role in a postgame pushing and shoving match after USC’s loss to Manhattan. He sat on the team bench in his warm-ups. Martin said that Carrera should return for USC’s first game at the Diamond Head Classic on Sunday.
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USC UPSTATE (6-5)
Greene 3-12 2-2 10, Glenn 8-12 5-10 21, Craig 3-12 6-10 13, Maxey 1-4 2-4 4, Blessing 0-2 0-0 0, Mawuenyega 2-4 1-2 7, Stephens 2-2 2-3 6, Miller 4-5 1-1 10, Olumuyiwa 0-0 0-0 0, Buchanan 1-3 1-3 3. Totals 24-56 20-35 74.
SOUTH CAROLINA (2-5)
Thornwell 6-18 4-6 19, Johnson 2-6 7-8 11, Henry 2-7 0-2 4, Ellington 3-13 0-0 8, Kacinas 2-5 1-2 5, Williams 3-9 0-0 8, Shaw 0-0 0-0 0, Notice 1-2 2-2 5, Chatkevicius 3-6 0-0 6, Ringer 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 23-69 14-20 68.
Halftime: South Carolina 37-33. 3-Point Goals: SC-Upstate 6-21 (Mawuenyega 2-3, Greene 2-10, Miller 1-1, Craig 1-6, Blessing 0-1), South Carolina 8-29 (Thornwell 3-10, Ellington 2-8, Williams 2-8, Notice 1-1, Kacinas 0-1, Johnson 0-1). Fouled Out: Henry. Rebounds: SC-Upstate 45 (Glenn 14), South Carolina 45 (Kacinas 9). Assists: SC-Upstate 17 (Glenn 5), South Carolina 15 (Johnson, Notice, Thornwell 3). Total Fouls: SC-Upstate 17, South Carolina 24. Attendance: 7,531.