His greatest weakness was exactly why Frank Martin had to have him. Michael Carrera’s passion for the game, his bull-in-a-china-shop mentality to basketball, could be a detriment, but also exactly what South Carolina needed.
The Gamecocks needed it Tuesday.
They got it.
The senior forward set or tied seven career highs while leading USC to an 84-74 win over Mississippi State. Carrera scored 34 points (previous career-high: 23) and tied a career-high with 15 rebounds as he took over with the rest of his teammates in foul trouble.
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“It was just my day, to be really honest,” Carrera said. “Trying to get open shots, and the shots we always practice. I was making it today.”
Carrera also set personal records in field goals made and attempted, free throws made and attempted and minutes. He became the first Gamecock in three seasons to score 30-plus points, and the first in four years to get 15 boards.
As the Bulldogs (8-11, 1-6 SEC) trimmed a 14-point lead to two in the second half and with half the Gamecocks’ team whistled for breathing, Carrera was the last man standing. It was be productive or lose.
He’s lost the last three seasons. That time, he said, is over.
“I’m ecstatic for Mike,” USC coach Frank Martin said. “Because he’s worked so hard and he cares about this team and this program like it’s his family. If I didn’t run plays for him, I think my assistants would have fired me.”
Carrera scored 15 of USC’s final 34 points, camping in the lane and letting the Bulldogs’ forwards fall for his head-fakes before he laid in the ball, usually with a foul. He’d hit a 3-pointer when left open. Working with Marcus Stroman, who played the best half of his career, Carrera patiently waited until he could get the ball in the lane, and then did what he does.
Arms and legs flying everywhere, Carrera scored, rebounded and packed MSU’s duffels. While Sindarius Thornwell shook his two-game shooting slump to score 15 and Duane Notice added 13, all took a back seat to the senior, who made it very clear two losses in the last two weeks is quite enough for the time being.
“We did pretty good,” he said. “We got a win.”
The victory improved USC to 18-2, a high for single-season wins under Martin, and 5-2 in the SEC. One more win ties the Gamecocks’ league-high wins under Martin and keeps them pointed toward the postseason – although nobody’s thinking of that just yet.
They’re enjoying the moment. Practice lately was about remembering what got USC here, not thinking what could be. Carrera took it to heart and led the Gamecocks on Tuesday.
“They responded to the post-Tennessee situation … and our lack of playing the way we’re supposed to play for the last four games or so,” Martin said.
After I.J. Ready splashed a 3-pointer to make it 55-53 with 10 minutes to play, USC was shaky. P.J. Dozier, Notice and Chris Silva each had four fouls and the Gamecocks were starting to freeze.
Mindaugas Kacinas put back Laimonas Chatkevicius’ missed 3 and then Carrera buried a 3 to restore the lead. MSU never got closer than four the rest of the way.
Star of the game: Carrera. It was the game of his life.
Play of the game: Carrera had several plays where he was in the lane after a feed and waiting for MSU’s bigs to come down so he could go up. His three-point play with 7:31 to go came courtesy of Gavin Ware, who along with Aric Holman and Craig Sword swatted a season-high 12 shots – a couple of Carrera’s included.
Stat of the game: 34 points from Carrera. As much as the Gamecocks aren’t dependent on one player, it was the most points from one USC player since Brenton Williams dropped 38 in 2012 – against Mississippi State.
FROM THE BASELINE
Stro: Stroman played 18 second-half minutes with Dozier in foul trouble and only had one turnover. While he missed two big free throws, it didn’t come back to haunt USC and restored some faith in what’s been adventurous point-guard play.
“He handled himself like a champ, because I got on him pretty hard,” Martin said. “He didn’t pout. I thought he played real well in that stretch where we rebuilt the lead.”
No silver lining: Martin was quick to slow the train. He opened his post-game presser by talking about turnovers and free throws. The Gamecocks had 18 turnovers, many of them unforced, and while they were mostly good from the free-throw line, they missed 14.
“We commit the worst turnovers of any team I’ve ever coached,” Martin said. “Turnovers and missed free throws are going to cost us.”
Whistles much?: We’ve all heard about the inadequacy of SEC officiating … so here’s some more. There were 18 fouls called in the first eight minutes of the second half. There were nine fouls called the rest of the game, and that was with MSU intentionally fouling to stop the clock late. Contact didn’t change throughout.
Be consistently good or consistently bad. Just be consistent.
Who: South Carolina vs. Alabama
When: 6 p.m. Saturday
Where: Colonial Life Arena
TV: SEC Network
Follow on Twitter at @DCTheState
MISSISSIPPI STATE (8-11)
Weatherspoon 7-17 3-3 19, Newman 5-13 0-0 15, Ready 6-8 5-5 20, Ware 1-6 4-6 6, Sword 3-11 4-7 10, Thomas 0-3 0-0 0, Zuppardo 0-1 0-0 0, Daniels 0-0 1-2 1, Holman 1-2 0-0 3. Totals 23-61 17-23 74.
SOUTH CAROLINA (18-2)
Thornwell 4-9 6-6 15, Chatkevicius 2-4 0-0 4, Dozier 2-4 2-4 6, Carrera 10-16 12-15 34, Kacinas 3-8 1-2 7, Stroman 1-3 0-2 2, Notice 3-10 5-6 13, McKie 0-1 0-0 0, Cobb 0-0 0-4 0, Silva 1-3 1-2 3. Totals 26-58 27-41 84.
Halftime_South Carolina 43-34. 3-Point Goals_Mississippi State 11-24 (Newman 5-8, Ready 3-3, Weatherspoon 2-6, Holman 1-1, Zuppardo 0-1, Sword 0-2, Thomas 0-3), South Carolina 5-15 (Carrera 2-3, Notice 2-8, Thornwell 1-1, McKie 0-1, Chatkevicius 0-1, Kacinas 0-1). Fouled Out_Newman, Sword. Rebounds_Mississippi State 26 (Sword, Weatherspoon 5), South Carolina 51 (Carrera 15). Assists_Mississippi State 11 (Ready 7), South Carolina 13 (Dozier, Notice, Stroman 3). Total Fouls_Mississippi State 32, South Carolina 25. Technical_Zuppardo. Attendance_12,764.