There is no mistaking that South Carolina basketball is at a low point. Losing back-to-back games, both at home and to Manhattan and USC Upstate, has everybody associated with the program feeling gloomy.
Coach Frank Martin had no cheery promises for the immediate future, either, saying that he liked his team and that he wasn’t going to panic. Despite the 2-5 record, the Gamecocks have the great majority of their season to play, and the next game is another chance to start erasing the bad beginning. Other teams, with 10 or 11 games under their belt, might be locked in to how their seasons are going to go.
Only thing to do is pack up and keep playing, which is what the Gamecocks did after the loss to USC Upstate. They loaded the bus and then the planes as they flew to Hawaii for the Diamond Head Classic.
USC will play three games in four days, beginning late Sunday night and ending with a game on Christmas. Today’s game is against St. Mary’s, usually an NCAA tournament darling and a team full of upperclassmen who have yet to lose this season.
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The aggressive schedule is the opposite of last year’s situation — a great start against cupcakes turning into a bad ending because the Gamecocks didn’t grasp how to win a close game.
“The whole intent and purpose was to prepare our team for reality when SEC play comes around. That is kind of what’s been put in front of us,” Martin said on a pre-Classic teleconference. “We like our team. We’re excited about who we are. We’re excited about the direction we’re headed in.”
USC has started each of the past two games well. The Gamecocks should also get Michael Carrera back after he was suspended for the Upstate game. Perhaps it’s a perfect mix — being in paradise, far away from the slings and barbs of the home crowd after galling defeats, but with those losses still driving the team to avoid more of them.
Perhaps not. The season is at a juncture. The Diamond Head can get the Gamecocks back to a respectable record, or really plummet them into an abyss.
But USC doesn’t want to have to get to rock bottom to start improving.
“We also have exposed ourselves to some hard, hard, difficult games and some really difficult environments,” Martin said. “Our team will be better because of those experiences. That’s no different with the event coming up out in Hawaii playing St. Mary’s, and whoever else we end up playing as we move forward and continue to harden our team and get us better prepared for conference play.”