A players-only meeting didn’t result in a win, but Sindarius Thornwell didn’t wait for the next practice to call another one.
“That’s the first thing I said,” Thornwell said, describing his post-Vanderbilt words to his teammates. “‘This is not going to happen again. This is not going to ruin our season again.’”
Thornwell, racing toward a top finish for SEC Player of the Year, re-drew the line in the sand after South Carolina lost its third of four games. A once-secure position in the NCAA projections is now perilous, a double-bye in the SEC tournament on the same shaky ground.
The Gamecocks (20-7, 10-4 SEC) try again to re-start their season Tuesday, and if they were looking for an easy game to do it, they didn’t get it. No games are easy this time of year, especially not on the road, and No. 13 Florida is trying to keep itself in the hunt for the SEC regular-season championship.
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But that’s the situation. USC played much better against Vanderbilt than it did against Alabama and Arkansas, but it still didn’t win. Looking at RPI numbers and the like, Tuesday’s game helps USC no matter the result.
The Gamecocks are only interested in one.
“Around this time is when you’re supposed to be playing your best basketball,” Thornwell said. “We got to get to that point.”
Frank Martin liked what he saw of USC’s defense for 30 minutes against the Commodores and was pleased with his team’s response to the Vandy loss. “We were as good (Sunday) as we’ve been in a long, long time. And that came from them, not from me,” he said.
The Gators are also severely wounded right now, with center John Egbunu out for the season with a torn ACL and leading scorer Canyon Barry nursing a rolled ankle (he’s a gametime decision). Florida, not terribly deep to begin with, is basically down to seven men.
The Gamecocks remain the top defense in the SEC while the Gators are third, so the game could mimic the Jan. 18 matchup in Columbia, won by USC. Florida was 0-for-18 from the 3-point line in that game and the teams combined for 55 fouls.
The Gators followed with a loss to Vanderbilt and haven’t lost since, reeling off eight straight wins. USC has lost consecutive games for the first time all year.
The defense is trying to refine the nastiness it played with earlier in the year and the offense is seeking anybody to help Thornwell. That can be aided by a more energetic spirit, something Martin said was lacking against Arkansas.
That part, at least, is repaired.
“I feel we have re-found that desire to play with just relentless pursuit of winning,” Martin said. “Does that mean we’re going to win? No. It didn’t mean we were going to win in November, December or January. It just means that’s who our team is.”
Thornwell, speaking for the veterans of last year, wasn’t afraid to bring up the past.
“We don’t want history to repeat itself.”
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Who: USC (20-7, 10-4 SEC) at No. 13 Florida (22-5, 12-2)
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Exactech Arena, Gainesville, Fla.
Radio: 107.5 FM
South Carolina’s probable starters: G P.J. Dozier 6-6 So. (13.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg); G Sindarius Thornwell 6-5 Sr. (21.1 ppg, 7.3 rpg); G Duane Notice 6-2 Sr. (10.2 ppg, 2.4 rpg); F Maik Kotsar 6-10 Fr. (6.2 ppg, 5.3 rpg); F Chris Silva 6-9 So. (10.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg)
Florida’s probable starters: G Kasey Hill 6-1 Sr. (9.7 ppg, 3.0 rpg); G KeVaughn Allen 6-2 So. (13.1 ppg, 2.5 rpg); F Devin Robinson 6-8 Jr. (11.1 ppg, 5.8 rpg); F Justin Leon 6-8 Sr. (7.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg); C Kevarrius Hayes 6-9 So. (6.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg)