Frank Martin stayed on-brand Tuesday night following South Carolina’s fourth straight loss.
The ever-honest Gamecocks coach was asked if he saw a change in the Arkansas defense after the Razorbacks limited his team to 65 points. After all, UA was coming off a Saturday performance to LSU in which it allowed 94 points. And five days prior to that, Texas A&M dropped 80 on the Razorbacks.
Arkansas was statistically the most forgiving unit in the SEC. So why did it look so strong with USC in town?
“They played us,” Martin told reporters in Fayetteville. “They played us. You want to get confidence in your defense? Play us, that’ll help you.”
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Carolina is now 13-11 overall and 4-7 in the SEC after the 81-65 defeat to the Razorbacks (16-8, 5-6). It’s lost four in a row for the first time since January 2015. It’s allowed 80-plus points in three straight games for the first time in the six-season Martin era.
But defensive lapses are just part of the problem. This skid, which began Jan. 27 against Texas Tech and has a chance to continue Saturday against Florida, has included 59 turnovers (14.8 per game), 29 shots blocked (7.3) and a collective field goal percentage of 35.9.
During ESPN2’s Tuesday broadcast, play-by-play announcer Jason Benetti asked analyst Dalen Cuff how to fix USC’s offensive issues.
“I sound like a broken record here,” Cuff said as the Gamecocks in-bounded with 8:23 left in the second half trailing by 12. “Their best option is to play through (Chris) Silva and get him some touches in the post.
“(Arkansas freshman forward Gabe) Osabuohien is long and a young guy. He can post him up and they can play through him.”
Shortly after the Cuff’s statement, Carolina ended its possession with Hassani Gravett getting called for a charge on an aggressive take through the middle of the lane. Silva, USC’s 6-foot-9 leading scorer, never got a touch as the Gamecocks recorded one of their SEC season-high 18 turnovers.
“We couldn’t pass the ball from the point to the wing,” Martin said afterward. “It had nothing to do with the full court press. I don’t think we turned it over but twice against their full court press. It was just guys couldn’t dribble the ball, couldn’t pass it from point to wing.”
Gravett, who started at point guard in place of Wes Myers, led the team with 12 points, but had four turnovers. The junior tried featuring Silva, USC’s 6-foot-9 leading scorer. On Carolina’s opening possession, Gravett threw a bounce pass into Silva, who was posting deep in the paint. Silva collected the dish and took one dribble before Razorbacks guard Anton Beard swiped the basketball away.
Silva, who finished with eight points, tied Gravett with four turnovers. The junior forward is averaging a team-worst 2.3 turnovers a game.
“You can’t beat Arkansas with just a point guard,” Martin said, nodding to the Razorbacks’ relentless approach. “They make all five guys on your team make decisions with the ball.
“We had 18 turnovers, Silva had four and (6-9 freshman) Felipe Haase had three, so we had seven from the center spot. And all seven of those were layups for them.
“They make different guys make decisions and our guys … we haven’t played a team that plays like them and we obviously didn’t handle that very well.”
With seven more from Arkansas, South Carolina has had 18 of its shots blocked the last two games. According to Kenpom.com, only Pittsburgh, among Division I teams, gets more of its 2-point attempts blocked than the Gamecocks (14.8 percent).
“I’m telling you,” Martin said, “you want to get confidence in your defense, play against us. We’ll turn it over and we’ll shoot it right into your guy so he can block shots and feel good about himself. … Some guys are young and don’t understand, other guys just haven’t comprehended that you can’t dribble the ball against set defense in front of the rim and expect people to get out of the way.
“It’s unfortunate, but that’s a true stat. Blocked shots, turnovers, fouls. You can’t win on the road when you have those kinds of stats.”