David Cloninger

Gamecocks’ defense bends, doesn’t break against Aggies

Duane Notice and Texas A&M’s D.J. Hogg scramble for a loose ball.
Duane Notice and Texas A&M’s D.J. Hogg scramble for a loose ball. online@thestate.com

South Carolina’s defense wasn’t lucky as it worked to an 11-3 record and became the SEC’s best unit in scoring defense, field goal percentage defense and 3-point defense – which was also the country’s best 3-point defense. The Gamecocks’ plan is to swarm the perimeter and limit passes inside, forcing them to shoot 3s with a hand in their face and the shot clock winding down.

It’s a plan made of necessity, since USC’s backcourt has the experience and the frontcourt doesn’t, plus gets a lot of fouls. And it’s worked very well.

So why was Texas A&M able to get through it and shoot 52.9 percent, with 11-of-19 3-pointers and nearly a 70 percent performance in the first half?

Rotations.

“I thought our initial hit defensively was solid, but once they made that extra pass … ” coach Frank Martin said. “That’s what people do to us.”

Generally USC can collapse on the inside and force a pass back out to where a defender lurks. A&M got it inside and stayed there, using Tyler Davis and Robert Williams to get to the rim.

The officials let the teams play on each side, with sparse fouls, and while that hurt USC on the offensive end, it helped on defense. The Gamecocks were at least able to hurriedly inbound after a make and get downcourt, which forced Davis, the 270-pounder, to be wheezing like a freight train after a few possessions.

Davis is one heckuva big man but it’s tough to get that kind of bulk up and down the court and be effective for all of it. He only played 23 minutes and had three fouls. The Aggies didn’t necessarily need him for all of them because D.J. Hogg was firing away from 3, but if they’d have had both of them hitting for the duration, much different result.

USC’s defensive rebounding is poor and is an ongoing issue, but the overall defense seemed to be more a case of one bad day than anything. The Aggies were bigger inside and went to it, and their 3-point shooting was hot (and defended pretty well). Shots just went in.

And as Martin also pointed out, A&M was facing an 0-3 SEC start. That tends to sharpen the focus.

South Carolina coach Frank Martin and senior guard Duane Notice speak after Saturday's win over Texas A&M at Colonial Life Arena.

TURNING POINT

Tonny Trocha-Morelos, yet another of Texas A&M’s moving trees that can stroke a 3-pointer like you and I chew gum, drilled one for a 59-58 Aggies lead with seven minutes to play. It had taken USC five minutes to lose an eight-point lead.

Sindarius Thornwell took over. “He had that look in his eye,” Duane Notice said.

Thornwell led the charge back into the paint, getting a layup to fall after Justin McKie found him underneath. His next two shots were putting back his own miss and seeing a McKie baseline jumper roll around and off right to him, all alone under the basket, for another two points.

The 3 started a 14-2 run.

3 POINTS

Star of the game: Thornwell, although it’s tough to single him out after Notice broke his shooting slump and Rakym Felder was applying for honorary Rock Hill membership (Indian Land’s just a county away). The senior gets it for putting the Gamecocks on his back in the final seven minutes, scoring 11 of his 16 points with three rebounds.

Play of the game: So many to choose from, but when A&M was really flexing its muscle inside in the first half and took a 33-26 lead, it looked like the Aggies could set a lead they wouldn’t lose.

After the under-4 timeout, Hassani Gravett found Chris Silva with a clear lane to the bucket. The #SilvaSlam started an end-of-half stretch where the Aggies had butterfingers and USC took a brief lead.

Stat of the game: 30 points off 25 A&M turnovers. The Aggies had more manpower inside and could barely miss from 3. Take three of those turnovers and points away and they’re probably not 0-3 SEC.

FROM THE BASELINE

No he doesn’t: The students behind me chanted “D.J. sucks!” whenever Hogg got the ball. He scored 25 points and was so quick at shooting 3-pointers that USC couldn’t hope to stop him (he made seven).

One, he clearly does not suck. Two, be original and quit saying “sucks” entirely. It’s a braindead heckle, especially for a guy named “Hogg.”

Not one of you ever watched “The Dukes of Hazzard?”

Pick a guy: The Gamecocks are finding ways to respond when Thornwell and P.J. Dozier aren’t producing or aren’t on the floor. Saturday, it was Felder splashing NBA 3s and swiping two steals with two assists. He didn’t have a great game at Georgia while Gravett did, which reversed this game – Gravett played some key minutes but cost USC some points with a couple of bad decisions.

Martin has credited his team’s depth this year and it’s paying off. The Gamecocks were able to win the game despite being outmanned in the paint, and Khadim Gueye didn’t even play.

Great start: They’re 2-0, so I asked the obligatory solid beginning question and Martin answered with the obligatory not-focusing-on-that line. He’s right – to get caught up in that ignores the 16 games to go. No sense patting themselves on the back now.

The best part is they don’t have to climb out of a hole, which has been a huge hurdle for the majority of the past 25 years. It’s only the fourth time USC has started 2-0 in the SEC, and they’ve only gone 3-0 once – 20 years ago, in that glorious championship season.

See you on Rocky Top.

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