It’s not so much one area as it is a philosophy.
“I think it’s just pride. We take pride in that,” senior Duane Notice said. “There’s times where we can go a week or so in practice on just defense.”
Opponents are wishing they’d spend a little less time.
Strike that, a lot less.
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It was Tweeted during the Seton Hall game – playing South Carolina seems like a miserable experience. While the Gamecocks lost that game and two more while Sindarius Thornwell was suspended, his return has brought a re-focus on what made – and what keeps – USC undefeated with him in the lineup.
Opposing point guard brings up the ball and sees nothing but the other jerseys, low to the ground with arms stretched like tripwires. He moves, they move.
“I think it’s just be as aggressive as possible,” Notice said.
The Gamecocks are the best in the SEC in scoring defense (60 points per game), field-goal percentage defense (36.8) and 3-point percentage defense (27.8) and tied for first in steals per game (8.3). In parlance, they’re cutting off passing lanes into the perimeter and guarding the rim while emphasizing rebounding.
In layman’s terms, the Gamecocks get after it.
‘We’re a good defensive team,” coach Frank Martin said after a win at Tennessee. “You go through and look at the numbers all year, and outside of the last game we played, everyone else is not touching 40 when they play. So we’re pretty consistent. It’s what we do.”
Martin has always coached relentless defense but at USC, hasn’t always had the athletes to make it work. Last year, the Gamecocks did it pretty well but their weakness at closing out shooters led to the second-worst 3-point percentage allowed in the league.
This year, not only are they the best in the SEC, they’re second-best in the country. They slipped from first when Texas A&M’s D.J. Hogg tossed in seven 3s, but after applying salve to that sore spot, USC’s scoring defense ranks seventh in the nation.
“We leave shooters open, it’s just a lack of mental focus,” Notice said. “When we get the rotations right and we get the shooters and we protect the paint, I think we’re a great defensive team.”
It’s pretty simple from the outset. Space the perimeter and don’t let the ball inside. Protect the paint. Rebound. Don’t go for steals.
“We don’t want to gamble. That’s not our thing,” Notice explained. “There are principles that we always like to clean up and make sure that we stay on top of, so whatever team we play against, we’re able to kind of enforce our will against them.”
So in comes Ole Miss, averaging 80 points per game before a loss at Georgia where top scorer Deandre Burnett was injured (high ankle sprain, day-to-day). Forward Sebastian Saiz is the best rebounder in the league and has given USC fits in past games. Martin has harped on defensive rebounding, which has been lacking.
The Rebels stand in the way of adding to the best SEC start in 20 years. What wins?
“Know the scouting report and close out on shooters,” Notice said. “And emphasis on rebounding. Some games we get out-rebounded and those are the games we lose. Gang-rebounding, even with guards, and making sure we keep the ball in front us, especially at half-court.”
NOTE: The Columbia Tipoff Club re-convenes at 9 a.m. Saturday at the Capital City Club. Martin and assistant coach Perry Clark will speak. For more information, contact email@example.com
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OLE MISS (10-6, 1-3 SEC) at SOUTH CAROLINA (13-3, 3-0)
When: 6:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Colonial Life Arena, Columbia
Radio: 107.5 FM
Ole Miss’ probable starters: G Terence Davis 6-4 So. (12.1 ppg, 5.0 rpg); G Rasheed Brooks 6-5 Sr. (8.4 ppg, 3.0 rpg); F Justas Furmanavicius 6-7 Jr. (6.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg); F Sebastian Saiz 6-9 Sr. (15.3 ppg, 11.5 rpg); F Marcanvis Hymon 6-7 Jr. (3.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg)
South Carolina’s probable starters: G P.J. Dozier 6-6 So. (14.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg); G Sindarius Thornwell 6-5 Sr. (18.8 ppg, 7.0 rpg); G Duane Notice 6-2 Sr. (10.1 ppg, 2.3 rpg); F Maik Kotsar 6-10 Fr. (7.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg); F Chris Silva 6-9 So. (9.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg)
Next game: South Carolina hosts No. 23 Florida at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday.