David Cloninger

Cloninger: Nothing ugly about a road win

South Carolina coach Frank Martin argues a call during the second half.
South Carolina coach Frank Martin argues a call during the second half. AP

Frank Martin put it best, as he always does. The man has a great way of simplifying what we’re all thinking.

“League road wins, you take them and you go get on that plane and go home and figure it out once you get home,” he said on his post-game radio show after South Carolina slipped past Mississippi State 77-73 on Saturday.

Yes, there were problems. Yes, one wouldn’t be wrong by saying, “the Gamecocks avoided a really bad loss.” Even Martin said, “we got lucky” twice in a minute when talking about Tyson Carter rimming out a 3-pointer late in the game.

But they won. USC won, stayed in first place in the league and answered for the Alabama loss. It also answered when MSU made its run to take the lead with five minutes to go.

Comfortable? Heart-relaxing? Hey, it ain’t got to be anything as long as it’s a win.

They can fix all the other stuff this week (and that will start with 3-point defense. MSU hit 11 and the next two opponents are the top two 3-point teams in the league). The Gamecocks can repair their overall defense (MSU shot 52.9 percent) and re-stress the message – Sindarius Thornwell is playing magnificent basketball right now, but he has to have some help. Chris Silva and Maik Kotsar got that telegram and finished with 25 combined points.

USC hosts Arkansas on Wednesday as the first of a six-game stretch to close the season. Three are at home, three away. USC’s getting close to the point of locking a top-four spot in the SEC tournament but it’s not quite there.

Pay attention to some marketing promotions coming out this week. You’ll like them.

ON THAT 3-POINT DEFENSE: Not surprising that Carter had as good a game as he did. He averages 20 minutes a game but less than seven points. He’s used to being a fifth option on the floor because Quinndary Weatherspoon and I.J. Ready and the rest do the scoring.

Ready has missed four games. Weatherspoon was in foul trouble all night and managed five points. I’m sure USC scouted Carter but probably didn’t think he was going to be a crucial guy to stop.

The first few looks were the Gamecocks’ problem from last year. They’d guard the ball on the perimeter, a defender would rush over to help as a ball-handler penetrated, and the double-team would free a shooter. The ball-handler would find him for a wide-open 3.

USC countered in the second half by playing zone defense, at least getting a hand in the face of the shooter. Some went, but the Bulldogs were 3-of-12 from 3 in the second half after going 8-of-15 in the first.

FREE?: USC missed 12 free throws a game after missing 15. P.J. Dozier airballed one in the final three minutes.

Said it before, I’ll say it again. The white square on the glass is there for a reason.

HELP!: It’s quite clear that Thornwell is not going to let this team down. Yet he still needs some help.

This cannot become the Sin and the Gamecock-aires league-wide tour going forward. The Gamecocks need consistent production from everybody not named Thornwell.

USC’s bench has been missing in action the past two games but at MSU, Silva and Kotsar woke up. That took the pressure off Dozier and Duane Notice, who are scuffling a bit right now.

Notice isn’t a driver. He’s an outside shooter, and opponents know it. Dozier, though, is nearly unstoppable when he wants to drive, either getting to the rim or floating a one-hander to it.

The Gamecocks want to play in the paint and get to the line (as fickle as it’s been lately). These next six and more, when in doubt, head down and get in the lane.

MAKING HISTORY: It’s a pet peeve when USC fans look at the schedule and start reeling off games that they “should” win. They’re mostly SEC games and the reasoning is, “Well, the SEC stinks.”

I can’t argue with the SEC’s production in the postseason the past 10 years, but it’s still 18 games of the season. USC traditionally hasn’t been very good in the SEC – Saturday clinched the Gamecocks’ fifth winning league season in 26 years – so why would anything be considered automatic?

That aside, heck of an accomplishment for Martin to be the first coach since Eddie Fogler to get two winning SEC seasons, and to do it back-to-back, like Fogler did. He and Fogler are the only coaches in USC history to have more than one.

Swear. Steve Newton (shudder) didn’t have any and Dave Odom’s best SEC mark was 8-8. Darrin Horn had one winner.

Fogler had an 8-8 and two winners, Martin has two winners. The SEC has a bad national reputation, but it’s very tough to come out ahead over 18 games. Martin’s done it in consecutive seasons.

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