A tie-less Frank Martin went nearly half of Wednesday’s opening period without coming off his seat. Colonial Life Arena was hosting a Division II opponent on a sleepy December afternoon.
This wasn’t the kind of game for fancy suits or over-the-top sideline animation. The South Carolina Gamecocks were eventually going to beat Limestone, but it was up to Martin’s players to determine the style.
So the coach sat for the majority of USC’s 74-45 win, making facial expressions and shouting instruction when he felt it was needed.
Such a strategy couldn’t have been easy on Martin. The Gamecocks (9-3), coming off an eight-day break, trailed by as many as nine points in the first half. Their most decorated player, Chris Silva, had another bout with foul trouble. Hassani Gravett and Justin Minaya, a duo that joined Silva in the starting lineup for a 12th straight contest, struggled to find a rhythm offensively.
Never miss a local story.
On the brink of SEC season, Carolina wasn’t exactly razor-sharp in handing the Saints (6-8) a fourth straight loss.
“Yesterday we practiced like a group of guys that missed being home on their couch with Mom giving them milk and cookies,” Martin said of the lead-up to Wednesday. “They looked like they were sad. And that’s how we played the first eight, 10 minutes of the game.”
Down 23-14 with 6:09 left in the first half, the Gamecocks went on a 20-2 run to take a 34-25 lead at the break. The spurt was extended to 29-2 in the early minutes of the second half.
It was more than enough to cement a victory.
“We got to figure out a way to take the last five, six minutes of the first half and the first 10 or so second half, and bottle that up,” Martin said, “try to play with those disciplines, those enthusiasms, that strength.
“And then the last 10 minutes of the game, once again we kind of went back to not doing things right. Obviously I made some substitutions. There’s a reason why some guys don’t play as much as others. That’s just part of life.”
Frank Booker, who didn’t make a field goal in last week’s loss at Clemson, hit four first half 3-pointers. He finished with a game-high 17 points. David Beatty came off the bench to score a career-high 16 points.
That was the good for USC’s backcourt. The bad included Kory Holden watching the game on crutches. Carolina announced before tip-off that the junior guard is out “indefinitely” with a hamstring injury. And then there was Gravett, who finished with as many turnovers (three) as assists. The junior point guard scored six points on 2 of 9 shooting. Gravett is 6 of his last 25 from the field.
“They handed the baton to him,” Martin said of Gravett and his connection to the departing players from last year’s team. “You got to take ownership. It’s part of the deal.”
Minaya scored four points. Silva had a season-low four points. The junior did grab seven rebounds, but he also sat with two fouls at the 16:21 mark of the first half.
“When we started off practice when we got back (from Christmas), it was kind of dead, we didn’t have any enthusiasm to be back,” Booker said. “I think that had something to do with our energy coming into the game.
“We tried to pick up during shoot-around, but at that time it was too late. But we fought back. We did some things that were good. And, as you saw, we did some things that we have to learn from.”
Martin’s halftime message? “Grow up,” Booker said.
The Saints were outrebounded by 14 in the second half.
“First half, they shot it really poorly,” said Limestone coach Brandon Scott. “We competed really hard. We played really good defense and we rebounded phenomenally well. And we got good shots.
“They kind of turned up the pressure (in the second half).”
The Gamecocks open league play Sunday at Ole Miss.
“I like our team, I like our guys,” Martin said. “But now we’re in the fire.”