What to look at before the next game?
The start, where South Carolina trailed 14-1 and had seven times as many turnovers as points? The final 10 minutes, where the Gamecocks were outscored 20-7 on the way to a 74-58 loss to No. 10 Florida on Wednesday?
Or the middle, where USC battled back from a 22-6 deficit in the first half to trail by 13 at half, then made it an eight-point game early in the second half and a 10-point game with 10:10 to play?
A little of both.
“We fought. Our kids fought,” coach Frank Martin said after his second consecutive SEC-opening loss. “I told our team, I hope we can figure out a way to take a lesson from the middle section of the game, when we relaxed, we didn’t play uptight, we weren’t nervous and we did the things that we practice and speak about doing, and we actually had success.”
Many expected a freshman-stocked USC team to lose heavily to the Gators. It wasn’t nearly as comfortable as the final score suggested, though, and that was what the Gamecocks (7-7, 0-1 SEC) have to focus on before their next game.
USC took “a straight right to the jaw,” as Martin said, as the Gators (12-2, 1-0) did whatever they wanted to in the game’s first 10 minutes. The Gamecocks had no offense, becoming a team of five freelancers, and their defense was finding new ways to allow nearly uncontested layups.
“You play high school and they press you, you kind of use your skill a lot to beat it,” said point guard Duane Notice, who had five turnovers. “When it comes to college basketball, you kind of got to use strategy because everybody else is as talented, if not better. “
Trailing 14-1 with seven turnovers, USC could see a repeat of last year’s game in Gainesville – the worst SEC loss in program history – looming. But even with their hottest scorer of late, Brenton Williams, in foul trouble, USC found a way to get back in the game.
The Gamecocks took a deep breath, didn’t give up and began carving into the Gators’ lead. A stubborn Florida reliance on trying to shoot the 3-pointer – and failing nine out of 10 times in the first half – helped as USC cut the lead to 13 at the half, and then to eight with 14 minutes to play.
Scottie Wilbekin connected on a 3 then to stretch the lead, but after tasting a potential upset, USC wouldn’t back down. Williams hit a 3 to make it 52-42 with 10:10 to play and the Gamecocks were again in position.
But they were gassed. Keeping a squad of Florida’s talent had taken a Herculean effort for 20 minutes. The young Gamecocks couldn’t handle the Gators’ senior experience, as they took off on the backbreaker.
Michael Frazier for 3. Patric Young layup. Wilbekin for 3.
“We cut it to (eight), and we had kind of slowed them down, and then we had three bad defensive possessions where we had guys that were just tired, whatever, I don’t know,” Martin said.
USC couldn’t buy a basket until one last run against the Gators’ substitutes. A Sindarius Thornwell four-point made it closer at the end.
Overall, Martin wasn’t happy with the loss.
But how could he not be proud of his team not giving up?
“We’ll show the guys not too much but some of that segment of that game, just so they can see some of the things we were talking about to give us a chance to kind of get back in this thing,” Martin said. “We played a real good team. Last year, we got punched, we never punched back. We didn’t come here to lose, but I’m proud of our guys and their willingness to continue to move forward.”
SOUTH CAROLINA (7-7)
Henry 1-2 0-3 2, Kacinas 2-2 2-2 6, Thornwell 3-5 2-4 10, Williams 4-10 0-0 10, Notice 2-4 3-5 8, Johnson 3-10 6-7 12, Shaw 0-1 0-0 0, Chatkevicius 0-0 0-0 0, Carrera 1-3 1-2 3, Ringer 2-4 3-3 7. Totals 18-41 17-26 58.
Yeguete 2-2 4-7 8, Prather 5-5 3-5 13, Young 6-7 1-2 13, Wilbekin 5-11 4-4 17, Frazier II 3-8 0-0 8, Hill 1-4 3-4 5, Finney-Smith 3-6 2-2 8, Edwards 0-0 0-0 0, Walker 1-2 0-0 2, Kurtz 0-0 0-0 0, Donovan 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-45 17-24 74.
Halftime_Florida 34-21. 3-Point Goals_South Carolina 5-10 (Thornwell 2-2, Williams 2-6, Notice 1-2), Florida 5-19 (Wilbekin 3-6, Frazier II 2-7, Walker 0-1, Finney-Smith 0-2, Hill 0-3). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_South Carolina 28 (Johnson 6), Florida 25 (Young 7). Assists_South Carolina 9 (Notice 3), Florida 16 (Finney-Smith 5). Total Fouls_South Carolina 20, Florida 19. Attendance: 12,147.