It is possible you might have noticed the USC men’s basketball team started slow again this past Saturday at Alabama.
Leading indicator of said slow start: that 32-9 advantage rolled up by the Tide. USC outscored Alabama 49-36 the rest of the way, but the damage was done.
In losing six consecutive games and falling to 12-13 overall and 2-10 in the SEC, a familiar theme is developing.
When these Gamecocks get down, they’re out.
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“Coming into games flat has been our problem our last five or six games, and the team knows it,” guard Brenton Williams said. “We’ve just got to find a way to have energy from the get-go instead of getting down, then trying to bring up energy.”
It began with the trip to Florida, when the Gators did their finest Harlem Globetrotters impression en route to a 75-36 shellacking. The Gamecocks then started slow against Georgia and failed to take advantage of the Bulldogs’ slow start.
Kentucky was another boat race, then a collapse in confidence doomed USC against Tennessee.
Those pratfalls set up USC for its Valentine’s Day massacre on national television, when they were blasted 64-46 by an LSU team they had defeated in Baton Rouge.
That led to a memorable Frank Martin post-game rant during which he accused a majority of the team of playing like zombies, in need of being fined and leading the country in airball layups.
Then came Alabama.
The Gamecocks face another daunting challenge Wednesday. They need to find a way to beat a good Ole Miss team to avoid losing their seventh-consecutive contest. That’s omething that didn’t happen during Darrin Horn’s ill-fated final voyage.
“We’re trying to approach the next few games with a different mindset,” said Williams, who was one of USC’s bright spots against Alabama, scoring 14 points. “We’re trying to develop it in practice before our next few games.”
Williams said the team is making a concerted effort to begin each practice with vigor.
“We’re coming into practice with enthusiasm and energy,” Williams said. “As Frank is always saying in the press conferences, he wants us to compete. That’s what Frank might have felt (we weren’t doing) these past few games, that we have given up when we get down 10 or 15 points. That’s what we’ve got to try and change.”
Ole Miss (19-6, 8-4) offers yet another interesting challenge for USC. The Rebels post perhaps the league’s best 1-2 duo in guard Marshall Henderson and forward Murphy Holloway, a former Dutch Fork standout.
“Henderson, the national media might have stopped with the fanfare or whatever, but he hasn’t changed,” Martin said of the outspoken junior who is averaging a league-best 19.7 points per game. “If you allow him to pivot on his left foot and he can just peek at the rim, you might as well just put the ball in the basket.”
Martin said Holloway is a different kind of big-man presence than LSU’s Johnny O’Bryant and Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes, who destroyed USC in the low post.
“Murphy is more of a face-up player,” Martin said. (Ole Miss) likes to run isolations for Murphy from the top of the key, from the right elbow, where he can take it and drive guys off the dribble, then he gets the offensive glass.”
Faced with the prospect of his first losing season as a college head coach, Martin’s expectations of the Gamecocks haven’t changed. Win or lose, he expects them to do what they haven’t been doing during the losing streak — get better every day.
“I couldn’t care less what our record is. I didn’t care what our record was … when we were No. 2 in the country,” Martin said, invoking a ranking he reached at Kansas State. “I really don’t care about the record. To me, it’s all about the kids. It’s about teaching every single day.
“Records are for fans. Records are for ESPN to have something to talk about every night. … RPI is to give people something to talk about. I get it. I understand,” Martin continued. “But for me internally, the only thing I’ve ever worried about is our kids, making sure that we as a staff do everything to help them. Our job is to prepare. Our job is to get them better. Our job is to teach them what it takes to win. As those kids continue to learn … then our program will become stronger and better.”
WHO: USC (12-13, 2-10 SEC); Ole Miss (19-6, 8-4)
WHEN: 7 p.m. Wednesday
WHERE: Colonial Life Arena
RADIO: WNKT 107.5 FM
SERIES: Ole Miss leads 15-14
COACHES: Frank Martin (12-13 in first season at USC, 129-67 in sixth season); Andy Kennedy (144-84 in seventh season at Ole Miss, 165-97 in eighth season)
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Ole Miss raced to a 17-2 record before injuries halted its momentum. Sixth man Aaron Jones tore his ACL against Kentucky, and Nick Williams has been hampered by a foot injury. Not coincidentally, the Rebels lost four of five before winning in overtime against Georgia on Saturday. Former Dutch Fork star Murphy Holloway returns for the final time. He is the Rebels’ all-time leader in rebounds with 975. … Keep an eye on Rebels guard Jarvis Summers, who is averaging 11.2 points per game in SEC play after averaging 7.1 in non-conference play.