The bowtie wasn’t Frank Martin’s idea.
“I don’t know,” he said in mock exasperation. “(Assistant coach) Brad Underwood said the guys were wearing them.”
Martin’s nattily attired debut Sunday as USC men’s basketball coach had just played out to its thrilling 82-75 overtime conclusion against Wisconsin-Milwaukee at Colonial Life Arena. He was all smiles in a black suit festooned with a Palmetto tree-emblazoned, garnet-and-black bowtie.
And why wouldn’t he be? His team had erased a 17-point deficit early in the second half to force overtime. Once there, his team’s superior conditioning ran roughshod over the spent visitors.
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What the 7,335 fans in attendance were treated to – other than a free hot dog and a drink – was a classic display of Frank Martin basketball: Rough, ugly and ultimately winning.
The mix of old and new on the Gamecocks roster was evident. The holdovers from the underwhelming Darrin Horn era melded well with Martin’s hastily assembled recruiting class.
While newcomers Michael Carrera and Mindaugas Kacinas wowed with rebounding acumen (they combined for 28), it was Gamecock veterans such as Lakeem Jackson and Brenton Williams who came up with the clutch baskets down the stretch as the Gamecocks forced, then won, overtime.
“It’s always good to win,” Martin said. It was here Martin launched into what makes him who he is. He is direct, never subtle. And he’s all about the win.
“Bad wins, ugly wins, whatever you want to word them, they’re so much better than good losses,” he said. “I’ve never understood people who run out of gyms saying, ‘Gosh, we played so hard, we just lost by three.’
“Are you kidding me?” he added with a laugh. “That’s misery. That is misery.”
Martin’s USC debut came almost five years to the day he made his head coaching debut at Kansas State. To say the circumstances were different would be an understatement.
The Wildcats were coming off a 20-win season and there were two future NBA draft picks – lottery pick Michael Beasley and second-rounder Bill Walker – on a roster that also included the school’s future all-time scoring leader, Jacob Pullen.
Kansas State obliterated Sacramento State by 31 points.
“Yeah, first game at Kansas State there was a guy named Michael Beasley who went for 36 (points) and 23 (rebounds),” Martin said. “True story. First game out.”
At USC, Martin was inheriting a team that had lost 11 of its final 12 games and lost its top two returning players to transfers. All that considered, 17 points and 15 rebounds from Carrera and a stirring homecoming for fifth-year senior transfer Lashay Page (19 points) wasn’t bad.
“We all take tremendous pride in getting this right and we live it every day,” Martin said. “Those kids have busted their humps for me, so I knew I had to be sharp and give them a chance to win today.
“I don’t know if I did my part,” Martin concluded, “but I know they did theirs.”