The last regular-season day of the S.C. Pro-Am ended with some fine performances. The playoffs, which all eight teams will make, begin at 2 p.m. on Sunday.
Mindaugas Kacinas had a tremendous stat line despite a pretty blah shooting night, ending with 12 points, 13 rebounds and five assists. A lot of it is Frank Martin’s new emphasis on his big men shooting the 3-pointer – all have been frequently filing 3-point shots throughout the summer. Kacinas hoisted seven and only made two, but to still have 13 rebounds was impressive.
He’s going to need to keep doing whatever he can to make an impact. Perhaps Martin’s idea is that if he starts the year with his bigs shooting outside, that will open the defense and they’ll be able to get a lot of penetration or junk buckets when they flash inside on a quick offensive set (“Surprise!”). The best thing about Kacinas is he’ll run through a brick wall if you ask him to – if USC starts getting pushed around in the paint this year (possibility: high), Kacinas will be told to get in there and just stand on the block, do whatever he has to do to make sure no forwards get past him. Hard to do with the new contact rules but this is something that will be a recurring theme until the Gamecocks find themselves a legit bruiser in the lane.
Michael Carrera continues to show a much-improved offensive gear, finishing with 31 points. The last two games I’ve watched him, he’s scored 62. Again, the 3 is a weapon for him – he made six on Thursday – but he also was spinning around in the paint, twisting his defenders into pretzels and laying the ball in. As he usually does, Carrera sported some fresh war paint – he had a two-inch scratch on his right cheek, which looked like a cougar got him (no pun intended). I asked him about it and he grinned, like he usually does when describing his wounds. Said a random fingernail got him last game. It looked like a 10-penny nail from the width of it.
Demetrius Henry. The good thing is, he’s put on about 11 pounds and despite the extra bulk, he’s a step quicker. In the track meet that he and Sindarius Thornwell played, they basically hung back and let the other team score so they could dunk on the other end. Henry had 18, Thornwell 30.
The bad news – Henry still seems a bit tentative playing inside. Now, he’s an outside shooter despite his height. That’s been well-documented. But he simply needs to play inside because the Gamecocks don’t have many options if he doesn’t. That means if he gets the ball on the block, he can’t dribble the ball with arm stretched to its full length, which makes it easy for anyone, even the guy on the front row of the stands, to knock the ball loose. Got to learn to hold the ball in close, take one hard bounce and go up. Henry had success inside, but it was all on uncontested dunks. Like last year, if he missed a bunny, he would take his next seven shots from a step inside the arc. He had 18, but shot 9-of-21 to get them. He also bricked his only two free throws. It’s hard to tell if he’s improved in staying out of foul trouble because the whistle barely blows in the Pro-Am, but he was barely in the paint on Thursday. It was just that kind of game.
Henry and Thornwell’s team had a tie with a minute to go and the opponent gave them the game, but they didn’t accept it. For some reason, the opponent launched a 3-pointer with 26 seconds left. It missed, but Henry was caught waiting for the rebound to come down, which allowed his man to go right by him, jump and lay in the rebound. Henry and Thornwell’s team ended up tying the game with 15 seconds to go, but then when the opponent jacked a long-range 3 and it missed, déjà vu – Henry’s caught watching as a man rebounds it for a layup to win the game. This is the kind of thing that will pop Martin’s scalp from his head if it happens in November.
Thornwell was his usual self. Acrobatic, dangerous, doing whatever had to be done. He’s awfully special. Between this and his trip to Europe at the end of the month, he’s going to get a lot of competition. I actually started to get concerned that he should be saving this for the season, but that’s just him – there’s a ball, there’s a board. He doesn’t know how to take it easy. USC very lucky to have him.
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