In a year-long process of hoping his team will grow and flourish, Frank Martin got what he wanted in Hawaii.
South Carolina returns home with a third-place finish in the Diamond Head Classic, playing three NCAA tournament teams from a year ago and beating two of them. Of course, Martin wanted to win first place and not third, but third after going to Hawaii with a 2-5 record was more than pleasing.
“Getting ready 2 leave this sight. Feels good 2 head home w 2 wins,” Martin tweeted on Wednesday, as he posted a picture of the Honolulu sunset.
The Gamecocks (4-6) answered every St. Mary’s challenge in their first win, were run over by a strong Boise State team in their only loss and came back to beat Akron for their second win. Through it all, USC tightened its rebounding, saw its offense flow a bit smoother and got a stellar three-game showing from freshman guard Duane Notice, who scored a combined 39 points.
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Every problem isn’t solved, but Martin could see improvement in areas, and the team had its confidence restored after two straight home losses before the tournament. The Gamecocks can work on what went right and wrong in its last game and apply them to the next game, since it’s the same opponent.
“Now what we’ll do is watch film, like I’m sure (Akron coach Keith Dambrot) will, on the way home to prepare for our practice and see how they tried to guard certain things, and what kind of stuff they tried to run against us so we can try and adjust to what they might do,” Martin told The Associated Press.
Many of Akron’s problems were when USC began making its run, attacking the basket and getting its arms in the way of Zips entry passes. That’s when the Zips seemed to quit trying as hard. Dambrot mentioned his team is going through character issues, with several players backing down from challenges instead of confronting them.
USC has fought the same problem, but significantly worked on it in Hawaii. The Gaels never quit playing against the Gamecocks, but USC responded every time St. Mary’s made a big play. Against Akron, the Zips cut the lead to three points with just under four minutes to play, but Notice connected on back-to-back layups — one after a steal — to stretch the advantage.
Notice gives USC another advantage, since he can play the point and he and Ty Johnson can switch the position while on the floor at the same time. Each is capable of driving the lane; but while Johnson has been hit-or-miss at the rim, the burly Notice is capable of absorbing more contact and getting the shot down.
The Gamecocks’ offense continues to battle stretches of standing around or being mystified by a zone defense, but had many more stretches of fluid play where it was doing exactly what it was supposed to do. USC may never be a tremendously successful shooting team, but if it can back defenses in, get to the rim and/or the free-throw line, it can give itself the best possible chance of scoring.
Next up is Akron, in a game that may go to whoever handles jet lag the best. Then there are two more non-conference games, each at home, before SEC play begins on Jan. 8 at Florida. The Gamecocks need as much feel-good play as possible before heading to Gainesville.
They received some at Christmas, and can get more before the new year.
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