David Cloninger

Cloninger: Gamecocks take the simple approach

Back to basics, back to the win column.

It’s a little-known fact that driving the lane cures all life’s mysteries. Frank Martin knew it, which is why after the last four games have been The Curious Case of the Gamecocks’ Offense, he went to practice with a directive.

"We’ve been driving the ball every time in practice," Michael Carrera said. "We don’t even shoot the ball."

Martin’s teams have always been about getting the ball inside. They’ll either score, or get sent to the free-throw line. He’s tried to install that at USC but you guys have seen the same thing I have when it comes to getting quality big men in a garnet uniform.

Still, it had to be done after the last four games. The Gamecocks were one of the best 3-point teams in the country until they hit conference play, and that vein in Martin’s temple was finally about to burst if he saw another possession of weaving the ball up top for 25 seconds end in a missed 3. This 3-for-20 stuff from long range cannot win.

And while USC has been merely decent from the free-throw line, it was at least a higher-percentage shot. Martin figured that he could live with a guy like Eric Cobb front-rimming four free throws in a row if Sindarius Thornwell and Carrera could make them when they counted.

It was a step. The Gamecocks got 12 shots rejected by Mississippi State on Tuesday but kept going inside. Marcus Stroman played a terrific second half, finding Carrera underneath, and Carrera played the best game I’ve seen since Renaldo Balkman did his thing in NIT Part 2. He was patient, waiting for the Bulldogs’ posts to keep jumping themselves into trouble while he sat back, waited for them to land and finished through contact.

Martin warned that silly turnovers and missed free throws are going to cost the Gamecocks someday. He’s right – I still have no idea how players will not use that white square on the glass when shooting free throws – but it wasn’t on Tuesday.

Five more wins.

STRIPES: SEC officiating continues to be an adventure, and this is across the league, not just in USC games. LSU-Georgia was quite the brutality on Tuesday.

Besides the 18 fouls in the first eight minutes of the second half in Columbia (and only nine the rest of the way, with play becoming more physical), I saw something I’ve never seen before. I say that a lot when watching this league police games.

Johnny Zuppardo (and man, I hope he gets into movies someday) was up top and Chris Silva was guarding him. Silva had him close and Zuppardo took a step and raised his arms. His elbow – at least one, if not both – smacked Silva in the lip.

The foul was called on Silva. Refs huddled. I figured they were correcting it. I figured I was right when they went to the monitor.

Duane Notice went to the line to shoot two free throws because Zuppardo was hit with a technical for the elbows. "Hey, they got it right," I thought.

Head ref walked over to the scoring table. "Foul on the floor still stands, with the technical," he said, and walked away before I could ask him what Matt Christopher book he pulled that from.

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