South Carolina coach Frank Martin and guards Ty Johnson and Brenton Williams looked rested and rejuvenated on Tuesday. They should have, considering it has been nearly two weeks since their last game and they were coming off a four-day break for Thanksgiving.
They’ll need their rest, as well, about to head into the toughest game on the non-conference schedule.
The Gamecocks (2-2) tip off at No. 9 Oklahoma State on Friday as part of the Big 12/SEC Challenge, and they’ll need every bit of gumption, cunning and a break or two to spring the upset. The Cowboys (7-1), led by one of the country’s premier players in sophomore guard Marcus Smart, are coming off a loss to Memphis in which Smart had a chance to tie the game or take the lead late, only to turn the ball over.
They’ll be plenty eager to right that wrong. USC is charged with trying to prevent it.
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Not surprisingly, Martin knows that OSU’s experience will be a colossal burden for his Gamecocks to try and overcome. Any team with several returning starters will be tough for USC this year.
“They got a chance to be one of the special teams in the country,” Martin said. “They play at a speed on offense which our freshmen don’t understand yet. How are we going to defend them?”
Martin scheduled the long break between games – from Nov. 18 to Dec. 16, there are two games – in part due to youth and in part thinking that he wouldn’t have Johnson until mid-December. The Gamecocks got a gift when Johnson was cleared before the season-opener, and get another gift Friday – senior guard Bruce Ellington is with the team and will play, after his football season is over for the moment.
There’s no telling how effective he’ll be, since he hasn’t played in a regular game since March. But his experience will count for something.
The other Gamecocks are ready to get back on the floor. Practices since returning from Thanksgiving have been spirited, and while USC knows it’s an underdog Friday, the chance is still there to come out ahead. The non-conference season is fertile territory for teams to gain signature wins – Belmont and UAB beat North Carolina already this year, only to see the Tar Heels turn around and beat Louisville and No. 1 Michigan State afterward.
“They have great players, but we also have great players as well,” Johnson said. “We’re not coming into this game scared or going up against the hype.”
“We know they’re receiving a lot of national news about how good they are and stuff, and they are a pretty good team, but we’ve just got to do what we can to prepare for the players that they have and whatever they’re going to bring at us, and we’re going to bring it right back at them,” Williams said.
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