Bruce Ellington has never lost to the Clemson Tigers. Neither has Frank Martin.
Of course, Ellington has played the Tigers four times in two sports. USC’s first-year coach is only now dipping his toes in the Palmetto State rivalry.
Martin said he heard about the importance of the rivalry, “before I was hired.”
“I needed to make sure I understood that before I accepted the job,” Martin said. “It’s as clear as day that part of the job description at the University of South Carolina is that you beat Clemson.
“That’s clear as day, and I understand it,” Martin added. “Fans have made sure that they let me know that. People I work with, work for, have made me understand how important that is. The message is loud and clear.”
Ellington, a junior point guard, is one week removed from a brilliant performance during USC’s 27-17 football victory at Death Valley. He is a few days removed from his first action on the basketball court — 29 minutes and 9 points in a blowout loss at St. John’s.
While he wasn’t as cocky as his football teammate Jadeveon Clowney in stating he has no intention of losing to the dreaded rival, Ellington does know what he wants.
“I always want to beat Clemson, but I’m going to go in there and try and get a win.”
Victory is the message Martin has been pounding into the Gamecocks. Not just winning against Clemson, but winning games, period. Yes, it’s a big rivalry game, but you will never hear Martin telling the team Clemson is more important than, say, Elon.
“The only time it’s a big game in a season, is when you know that if you lose, the season’s over,” Martin said. “But, from understanding how important this game is to the people of South Carolina, it’s very important that we comprehend how important it is that we perform well and play the game the right way.”
USC enters the game at 5-2 while the Tigers are 4-2. Both will be missing key players for Sunday’s noon tip.
Junior guard Brenton Williams is recovering from a scary-looking neck injury sustained during the second half at St. John’s. USC has been mum on his status, but senior forward Lakeem Jackson on Friday said Williams looked better.
“I’ve seen him walking around a couple of times,” Jackson said. “He’s fine, so I think he’s doing pretty good.”
Clemson suspended Milton Jennings, one of the team’s captains, following an arrest earlier this week. In his absence, the Tigers will be led by senior forward Devin Booker, who is averaging 11.7 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. He scored a game-high 18 points in the effort against Purdue during a 73-61 loss as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
USC leads the all-time series 88-74, including last year’s 58-55 victory at Clemson.