Earlier this month, USC men’s basketball coach Frank Martin warned it would be foolish to overlook Appalachian State just because it sported two wins on the season.
The Mountaineers gave the Gamecocks all they could handle before succumbing 74-59 at Colonial Life Arena on Dec. 19.
On Saturday, for much the same reason, Martin again is warning his team and those who follow the Gamecocks that 2-10 Presbyterian is no pushover.
The cause for pause: The return to the Blue Hose of point guard and Keenan High product Eric Washington. Just as the Mountaineers took on an entirely different offensive look with the return of one of their top sparkplugs so, too, are the Blue Hose.
“Just a completely different team,” Martin said. “They’ve played three games now with him back at the point.”
Martin said the team he sees on video with Washington at the helm is one that is getting better shots and turning over the ball at a much reduced clip.
“Turnovers plagued them,” Martin said. “Without a point guard, guys were getting shots, but the time was a little off. With him back in there now, you’re starting to see their shooters get the shots and they get good shots.”
When it comes to Presbyterian, there are additional factors to consider beyond Washington, who excelled against many Gamecocks during the S.C. Pro-Am summer league, a local collegiate summer hoops showcase.
The Blue Hose pushed the Gamecocks this past season before succumbing 66-58. That contest was one with Bruce Ellington at the helm. Saturday, not only will the Gamecocks be without Ellington, it appears they will be missing LaShay Page. The fifth-year senior is dealing with an undisclosed academic issue. Martin said Thursday he was meeting with school officials later in the day to sort out Page’s situation.
After the Blue Hose, there will be one last tuneup for the Gamecocks prior to the start of SEC play — a home date against S.C. State on Jan. 5.
WHO: USC 8-3, Presbyterian 2-10
WHEN: 1 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Colonial Life Arena
RADIO: WNKT 107.5 FM
SERIES: USC leads 31-7
COACHES: Frank Martin (8-3 in first season at USC, 125-57 in sixth season); Gregg Nibert (384-317 in 24th season at Presbyterian; same overall)
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Saturday will mark another chance for former Keenan High standout Eric Washington to shine against his hometown school. He recorded 10 assists in a game earlier this season and has a streak dating to last season of five consecutive games with at least six assists. Presbyterian is coming off an eight-point loss at Appalachian State, USC’s previous opponent. The Blue Hose’s two wins have come against North Greenville and Toccoa Falls. Martin has seen Presbyterian before: In 2010, a heavily favored Kansas State barely escaped with a 76-67 victory at KSU’s Bramlage Coliseum. Saturday marks the second consecutive season the two teams have met. Prior to these games, the two met once (2008) since 1947.