David Cloninger

Gamecocks grab cathartic win at Mizzou

Sindarius Thornwell
Sindarius Thornwell AP

Needed that one.

It wasn’t pleasant to watch a lot of the time, but South Carolina got a win it had to have Saturday at Missouri. All wins are great, especially in conference on the road.

This was greater, because it wasn’t a really bad loss.

Frank Martin and his players mentioned it before they left. That loss at Mizzou last year cost them so much more than a “9” instead of an “8” on the schedule. While we’ll never know exactly what was the deciding line in the selection committee’s thinking, losing to a team that finished 10-21 was not good.

I’ve explained before how USC gets no help from its league schedule. Win, and they were supposed to. Lose, and it’s viewed through a magnifying glass because the league beats itself up so much.

The SEC is simply never going to be like, say, the ACC, where a team could finish Saturday 2-6 in the league and still be considered in the tournament. Any SEC team fighting to get in has to leave no doubt whatsoever, especially if it’s not named Kentucky or Florida.

Make the sheer number of wins overwhelming, or win the SEC tournament, or win the league, or beat Kentucky or Florida. You can even get away with a loss or three in the 18-game schedule as long as you don’t lose to the dregs that year, which this season are Missouri and LSU.

(Public service announcement: USC’s next game is at LSU).

Missouri wasn’t won by the numbers, for sure. The Gamecocks like to play at the rim, earning their points in the paint or at the free-throw line. This game they had nearly as many 3-pointers (nine) as other field goals (11).

I could see that coming, after USC drained 15 from long range against Auburn last game. Missouri’s length is a handful in the interior, and after Chris Silva again picked up two quick fouls in the first half, the Gamecocks were left with Sindarius Thornwell and the Funky Bunch. Rakym Felder was the guy who stepped up this time, scoring 12 points in the first half to elevate the Gamecocks to the lead.

Duane Notice hit three 3s in the second half, P.J. Dozier got out of his foul-affected mess for seven and everybody else who played contributed. The interior defense was a concern (36 points in the paint?) but considering the Tigers were 1-of-17 from 3, strengthening the country’s best 3-point defense, there was really nowhere else for Mizzou to turn.

There are concerns going forward. But they don’t affect the current record. As Martin also said earlier in the year, it doesn’t matter how it looks, it only matters how many. Even the selection committee, as opposed to the SEC as it is, won’t look into the bells and whistles of the record and say, “Well, they shoulda whipped Mizzou by 40.”

So USC heads to LSU on Wednesday. Another chance to win, another chance to correct any foibles that have popped up. And it must be said, since that will be the mid-point of the SEC season – another chance to at least stay even with Kentucky for the SEC regular-season championship (there are no tiebreakers when determining banners and rings and trophies).

Saturday was one bell answered.

The first of 10 more awaits Wednesday.

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