South Carolina knew it would face a hurdle against Holy Cross, with the Crusaders’ ability to patiently screen and cut until the desired backdoor lane was open.
The Gamecocks also knew if they got a big lead, they could render Holy Cross nearly ineffective. That offense works, but it’s not going to score a bucketful of points in a quick period.
“Having to play two completely contrasting styles, offensively and defensively, with one day turn in between, was a concern for me,” coach Frank Martin said after USC plowed Holy Cross 81-49 and improved to 2-0. “And I couldn’t ask for our guys to have been better today. As the game settled down, I think changing our defenses really helped us and kind of kept them out of rhythm.”
USC’s use of a 3-2 zone disrupted the Crusaders after they scored on their bread-and-butter Princeton plays midway through the first half Sunday and the Gamecocks gleefully shot over the zone Holy Cross tried to use against them. USC hit 12 3-pointers, eight in the first half, led by four from high scorer Sindarius Thornwell.
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Once the lead was established, Martin was able to tinker with rotations and get ready for the final leg of a three-games-in-five-days swing to open the year. It’s also a doozy – Monmouth, which won 28 games last year and like USC was a top seed in the NIT.
“Tuesday? We got a hard one. I thought today was going to be hard. I thought La Tech was going to be hard,” Martin said. “We got a one-day turn and we got to make sure we play well.”
The Hawks (1-0) return nearly everybody from a team that was right on the NCAA tournament bubble last year. The Gamecocks won’t have to worry about a gimmick offense, but they’ll have plenty to worry about against a team aching to add another Power-5 opponent to its defeated list.
USC has been able to score in a variety of ways but is still searching for solutions in its post game. Starters Maik Kotsar and Chris Silva have found themselves on the bench with two quick fouls the past two games.
Martin wants to exploit the inside, and each player is still on a learning curve – Kotsar a freshman and playing American basketball, Silva a sophomore who added more post moves to his repertoire. It’s frustrating to not have those two available; then again, the Gamecocks’ replacements have thus far proved capable.
“We’ve got to figure out a way to keep Chris and Maik out of foul trouble. They’re our starting center and starting power forward for a reason,” Martin said. “That’s the problem with first-year guys -- you don’t know what you’re getting. This team has depth like I haven’t had since I’ve been here.”
It will be tested Tuesday as Martin seeks his third 3-0 start in five years.
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MONMOUTH (1-0) at SOUTH CAROLINA (2-0)
When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Colonial Life Arena, Columbia
TV: SEC Network Plus
Radio: 107.5 FM
Monmouth’s probable starters: G Justin Robinson 5-8 Sr. (15.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg); G Josh James 6-2 Sr. (0.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg); G Micah Seaborn 6-5 So. (17.0 ppg, 1.0 rpg); G Je’lon Hornbeak 6-3 Sr. (13.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg); C Chris Brady 6-10 Sr. (14.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg)
South Carolina’s probable starters: G P.J. Dozier 6-6 So. (16.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg); G Sindarius Thornwell 6-5 Sr. (19.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg); G Duane Notice 6-2 Sr. (11.5 ppg, 0.5 rpg); F Maik Kotsar 6-10 Fr. (5.0 ppg, 2.5 rpg); F Chris Silva 6-9 So. (10.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg)
Next game: South Carolina hosts S.C. State at 6:30 p.m. Friday.