South Carolina has consecutive wins for the first time since mid-January.
The Gamecocks on Wednesday mixed timely offense with disruptive defense to beat Georgia, 66-57. USC (15-13, 6-9 SEC) has now swept the Bulldogs (15-12, 6-9) two straight years.
This relative hot streak comes after six straight losses, a stretch that all but doomed USC’s outside chances at an NCAA Tournament at-large bid. The fifth of those losses came Feb. 10 against Florida in Colonial Life Arena. The Gamecocks were listless that afternoon and Frank Martin took ownership for it. The sixth-year coach apologized to fans, noting the home team’s performance in the 65-41 defeat was not reflective of what he promised garnet and black supporters when he was hired.
“I didn’t say we were winning an SEC championship, I didn’t say we were going to a Final Four,” Martin said. “I said that our team would be the hardest playing team, most disciplined, toughest bunch of you-know-whats that would take the court every time we play.
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“And obviously, because of the efforts of the ones that came before, our fans have bought in and they’re here for us and helping us. And I have not kept my word with the way we played today.”
Martin’s message received?
“The biggest thing for our team is just staying together, believing in each other and believing in the culture of South Carolina basketball,” said senior guard Wes Myers, who co-led the Gamecocks in scoring Wednesday with 15 points. “That’s the thing that he emphasizes and that’s what he pushes. We have to believe and we can’t fight the coaches.
“It’s not necessarily even fight. It’s, ‘Oh, I want to do something this way.’ We got to do it as a unit and be cohesive. That’s his big thing.”
USC on Wednesday had four players – Myers, Chris Silva (15), Frank Booker (14), Felipe Haase (12) – reach double figures in scoring for the first time since Dec. 6 against Wyoming, a span of 19 games.
Some other takeaways from the Georgia win:
Point guard praise? Yes, point guard praise
Death, taxes, Sandstorm at tip-off, Martin critical of his point guards in post-game. But then – after Myers and Hassani Gravett combined for one turnover in a USC win – a South Carolina basketball certainty went away.
“Wes and Hassani,” Martin said, “the reason we’re playing better is real simple – those two. Plain and simple. There’s no other way to explain it. Those two guys are playing a lot better. When your point guards play better, your team plays better.”
Martin applauded that duo after the Auburn win for its on-ball defense against one of the SEC’s top backcourts. Wednesday, it was more about Myers and Gravett’s offensive efficiency.
Myers shot 56 percent from the floor, including a 5 of 7 effort from the 3-point line. Gravett scored eight points, had five assists and didn’t record a turnover over 35 minutes of action.
The Gamecocks had a season-low five turnovers – against 12 assists – for the game.
Myers over the last three games: 30 points, three assists, two turnovers.
Gravett over the last three games: 29 points, 12 assists, four turnovers.
Bench comes alive, again
Evan Hinson has started 13 straight games, but hasn’t logged more than eight minutes in four of the last five. The sophomore guard again received brief action Wednesday, somewhat due to his three fouls in four minutes.
Meanwhile, sixth man Booker has reached double figures in points four straight games. The senior sparked another outstanding night for the USC reserves. The Gamecock bench, with 41 against Georgia, has now gone for 40-plus points in back-to-back games.
“That’s why I’ve stayed with the lineup the way it is because I kind of like what those guys give us coming off the bench,” Martin said, nodding to Booker, Myers and Haase.
Maik Kotsar, 1 of 10 from the field, but ‘saved the game’ for USC
Maik Kotsar went 2 for 20 against Georgia this season. His poor shooting performance in the first matchup repeated itself Wednesday.
Martin called the shooting woes “frustrating,” but didn’t diminish Kotsar’s role in the victory.
“I need him to be aggressive,” Martin said. “He grabbed seven offensive rebounds? He pretty much saved the game for us with some of those rebounds coming down the stretch.”
Five of Kotsar’s seven offensive boards came in the second half. The Gamecocks scored five points off those extra possessions, including a Haase 3 to put them up 11 with 9:47 to go.