The statement was simple enough, a couple sentences describing a basic trend across all levels of basketball.
“I think when South Carolina is making shots, they’re gonna be really, really good,” said Brandon Scott. “I feel like, just like all teams, when they’re struggling it’s going to be because they’re not making shots from the field.”
Scott was the losing coach Wednesday at Colonial Life Arena. His Limestone Saints, a Division II program from Gaffney, hung with the mighty Gamecocks for a good 15 minutes before Frank Martin’s bunch woke up and rolled to a comfortable victory.
USC’s competition takes a major step up Sunday evening when the Gamecocks (9-3) begin SEC play at Ole Miss (7-5), but Rebels coach Andy Kennedy could very well echo Scott with his post-game comments.
Carolina in 2017-18 is 8-0 when shooting 45 percent or better from the field. It’s 1-3 when it fails to reach that benchmark. That lone victory came against Scott’s Saints. (The Gamecocks managed to win by nearly 30 points despite only hitting 38 percent of their shots.)
This has become the early identity for USC. But how will it translate against SEC opponents? Can quality shooting show up for the majority of an 18-game schedule? And when it doesn’t, can the Gamecocks find other ways to win?
En route to a school record 26 wins and a Final Four appearance last season, Carolina went 13-0 when it shot better than 45 percent from the field. It grinded out the other half of its victories on the support of elite defense and rebounding.
Martin said Friday the current state of his defense is “a lot better than it was six weeks ago.” That’s a nod to six new rotation players beginning to grasp important concepts.
“Is it where it needs to be at? No,” Martin said. “But that’s the way it works. I’m all about people getting better, I’m all about people improving. We have improved tremendously on defense.
“That’s my whole goal, to keep pushing in that direction and the guys have been receptive.”
The Gamecocks last season finished third nationally in Ken Pomeroy’s defensive efficiency ratings (points allowed per 100 possessions). A year later, they’re 15th – with two SEC foes (No. 3 Texas A&M and No. 9 Tennessee) in front of them.
Seven SEC teams are among KenPom’s top 40 in defensive efficiency, the league’s most since 2001-02.
Six SEC teams are holding their opponents to under 40 percent shooting, including Missouri, which comes to CLA on Wednesday.
“During the game,” said USC sophomore forward Maik Kotsar, “if the shots aren’t falling, then us as frontcourt guys, we have to go out there and rebound and try to get second-chance opportunities for us to get more shots up.”
USC is averaging 12.1 offensive rebounds per game this season. That’s the fewest in the six-year Martin era.
‘It’s a big part of every team I’ve coached, offensive rebounding,” Martin said. “It’s something that we haven’t been as good as we need to (be).”
Part of that, Martin said, is on wing players Justin Minaya (freshman) and Frank Booker (transfer) adjusting to rebounding from a new position. The other part, though, is veterans Kotsar and Chris Silva not being as aggressive on the offensive glass.
“Maik, for as good of a player as he is and as much as he does for our team, rebounding is not something he’s done well early in the season,” Martin said. “He’s got to be better there.
“And then when we come off the bench, (freshman forward) Felipe (Haase) rebounds certain basketballs. He’s got to learn to go after more basketballs. That’s also a learning thing for him. Because he can really shoot the basketball, everyone’s always asked him to play outside the 3. It’s hard to rebound the ball when you’re standing outside the 3-point line.”
Carolina shot a combined 34 percent in losses to Illinois State, Temple and Clemson. The Clemson loss featured Kotsar’s fewest FG attempts in a game this season (five). Silva went 2 of 10 against Temple.
“It all starts and ends with scoring at the rim for all the good teams,” Martin said. “Maik and Chris have to do that for us. And as they do that, hopefully we can become more consistent as far as a perimeter shooting team.”
South Carolina (9-3) at Ole Miss (7-5)
When: 6 p.m. Sunday
Where: The Pavilion in Oxford, Mississippi
How to watch: ESPN2