OK, the good stuff: USC dispatched visiting Morgan State 87-71 on Friday night at Colonial Life Arena before a chippy crowd of 8,019.
The Gamecocks won the rebounding battle 35-22 and shot 52.6 percent from the field as five players reached double figures in points.
“I want to thank our fans for coming out to games,” USC coach Frank Martin said. “It was awesome. Friday night you can get your students to come out and be excited about watching your team play.”
“But I’m also embarrassed,” Martin continued. “Embarrassed by our performance, embarrassed for the people who paid money for tickets and gave up their time to come watch our team play.”
Why the sorrow? It goes back to practice during the week when the team did not show, in Martin’s opinion, passion and its usual attention to detail. The team’s 20 turnovers, lack of talking, overall defense and the Bears’ 52.8 percent shooting from the field all added up to a most un-Martinesque team performance.
“We probably could have had a kindergarten class be more enthusiastic and more disciplined in practice (Thursday) than my team,” Martin said. “I’m one of those guys who truly believes you perform the way you practice.
“We didn’t do anything, not one thing, that we talk about doing to help our team figure out ways to win games,” he continued. “We didn’t win because of who we are or how we played.”
In contrast to the season-opener against Wisconsin-Milwaukee — when the Gamecocks rallied from multiple double-digit deficits — the Gamecocks took several double-digit leads on Friday only to see Morgan State battle back.
Facing a taller team and without the services of Michael Carrera — who suffered a concussion during Wednesday’s practice — or the suspended Laimonas Chatkevicius, the Gamecocks relied on a guard-heavy, eight-man rotation.
Still, they managed to outrebound a front line of Bears who went 6-foot-8, 6-9 and 7-2.
“We knew we were at a size disadvantage,” senior guard LaShay Page said. “(Martin) challenged the guards in practice, telling the guards we needed to get in there rebounding. Obviously we did. Everybody chipped in and got some rebounds.”
Page led the way with 20 points. Eric Smith added 17. Brent Williams started for Carrera and finished with 14 while Brian Richardson came off the bench and scored 10.
RJ Slawson bounced back from a disappointing opener in which he scored no points and missed large chunks of time with cramps. He scored 10 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Eight of those points came during an early stretch in the second half when USC turned a four-point game into a 60-50 lead.
“We need RJ to be a good player for us,” Martin said. “We need him to have confidence ”
At that, Martin returned to the night’s theme.
“But once again — I don’t mean to dwell on the negative — it’s just that when there’s 90 percent negative after the game and 10 percent positive? There’s just so much more negative to talk about than positive.”
Page also alluded to the elephant in the room — what would have happened Friday if the opponent wasn’t lightly regarded?
“It was actually discouraging,” Page said. “If we play a great team and give up 53 percent shooting, it can easily turn. Our team is not based on offense. We’re a rebounding and defensive team, and we don’t want to turn the ball over 20 times a night. That’s not good. That’s something we have to improve on.”
Morgan State was paced by Justin Black’s 20 points. If all Martin could see was the dark cloud on Friday, Morgan State coach Todd Bozeman provided a silver lining.
“First of all, Frank Martin, I love Frank Martin. He coaches hard, and his teams play hard,” Bozeman said. “I know they didn’t particularly shoot the ball well last game, but they responded and shot the ball well (Friday). They played hard, they had rebounders and really played tough.”
After what Martin promised would be a rigorous weekend of practice when guarding the ball and many other aspects of spacing, defense and talking will be emphasized, the Gamecocks return to action Monday at home against Rider.
Percentages: FG .528, FT .650. 3-Point Goals: 2-13, .154 (Jackson 1-4, Bozeman 1-5, Pretlow 0-1, Hubbard 0-1, Black 0-2). Team Rebounds: 4. Blocked Shots: 4 (Duncan 2, Jackson, Chiles). Turnovers: 20 (Jackson 8, Bozeman 4, Hubbard 3, Duncan 2, Black, Pretlow). Steals: 11 (Jackson 5, Pretlow 3, Bozeman 2, Duncan). Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .526, FT .808. 3-Point Goals: 6-16, .375 (Richardson 2-3, Page 2-6, Smith 1-3, Williams 1-4). Team Rebounds: 2. Blocked Shots: 2 (Leonard, Slawson). Turnovers: 20 (Smith 3, Williams 3, Slawson 3, Kacinas 3, Leonard 2, Page 2, Jackson 2, Richardson). Steals: 5 (Page 2, Kacinas, Slawson, Jackson). Technical Fouls: None.
Att.–8,019. Officials–Antinio Petty, Rick Hartzell, C.J. Washington.