Prior to Saturday, a Frank Martin-coached South Carolina team hadn’t lost by more than 20 points at home since Feb. 13, 2016.
Those Gamecocks, though, were 21-4 after Kentucky rolled through Colonial Life Arena with an 89-62 victory. Martin said in that post-game press conference USC was given a “couple black eyes” by the Wildcats. Following the 65-41 loss to Florida on Saturday, the conversation was less about the opponent.
Carolina (13-12, 4-8 SEC) has dropped five games in a row, the last three coming by 16 points or more.
“We’re a hurt team right now,” Martin said. “We’re a team lacking spirit.”
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Two weeks earlier, the Gamecocks, coming off a win at Florida, held a four-point lead on 14th-ranked Texas Tech with 3:38 remaining. USC was outscored 13-2 down the stretch and hasn’t been the same since.
“Passion,” said senior guard Frank Booker, “that’s it. Right now we’re playing kind of stagnant. We’re not playing like the team that we know we are, moving the ball, playing great defense, helping each other out. If somebody gets beat, be there. If someone else gets beat, we rotate.
“Little things like that that we’re not doing anymore. That’s the biggest thing right now. I don’t want to say we’re not passionate because every day we’re at practice we’re running, we’re sprinting, we’re doing things, we’re with each other. But I don’t see the same look in everybody’s eyes these past few games because of the losing.”
South Carolina shot just 27.8 percent from the floor Saturday, but that’s hardly a storyline anymore. Despite Martin’s preseason observations, the Gamecocks have proven they’re not to be mistaken for the Golden State Warriors. But poor shooting didn’t matter in wins over Georgia (27.1 percent) and Kentucky (37.7). When the Gamecocks made 43.6 percent of their attempts in Gainesville on Jan. 24, they broke a streak of nine games where they failed to reach 40 percent.
USC was able to mostly get by on a unique victory formula that combined a low turnover rate, high free throw rate, rebounding domination and elite defense.
The Gators on Saturday were plus-four on made FTs and plus-three on FT attempts, an eye-popping plus-22 on the glass and shot 46 percent from the field.
“We got beat in every category that’s about effort and discipline,” Martin said.
Florida entered Saturday last in the SEC in rebounding margin. South Carolina was fourth.
Carolina has dropped to No. 40 nationally in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency ratings. They finished No. 3 in that category last season.
“They only scored 65 and we had given up 80 three straight games,” Martin said. “So everyone’s going to say, ‘Well, you guys guarded better.’ No we didn’t. We didn’t guard through the disciplines that we teach.”
USC has had two six-game losing streaks under Martin, both coming during his first two seasons in Columbia.
The Gamecocks next travel to No. 15 Tennessee on Tuesday. They host No. 8 Auburn next Saturday.
“I don’t have any doubt in my mind that this team can easily turn this thing around,” Booker said.