David Cloninger

Cloninger: Martin gets back to basics, USC gets back to win column

The man knows what he’s doing.

Frank Martin knew he couldn’t keep things the way they were and hope South Carolina snapped out of its funk before it was too late. Having been around for a while, he also knew that drastic shakeups of what had been working pretty well could go two ways.

Yet it had to be done. The Gamecocks couldn’t afford more slow starts to games, where they let the game be taken to them instead of being the aggressor. After the stunner at Mizzou, he was simple and direct with his troops.

It’s like middle-school, he said. Ten practices and five games. That’s the season. It’s Day 1 of practice.

Who wants it more?

“I opened all the jobs up. Let’s just play a brand-new season,” Martin said. “We just tried to start from scratch.”

Good word, “scratch.” It described how the revamped Gamecocks had to get Saturday’s win.

For the first 13 minutes, Martin’s move paid off. The new lineup and a re-stressed point of attacking the paint earned a 17-point lead. Then for whatever reason, the Gamecocks stopped doing what had gotten them there. They quit driving, quit being aggressive.

The Gators scored the next 22 points. And that’s after a halftime speech of Martin telling USC to calm down, get regrouped, the game’s still there to be had – and a second half that started with a USC turnover and a foul on Dorian Finney-Smith.

But USC remembered what had gotten it to 21 wins before Saturday, and what it didn’t have against Kentucky and Missouri. The upperclassmen Martin leaned on also remembered how harsh it had been the past few years and how brutal it would be if this year, with so much going right, ended so wrong.

The Gamecocks answered. Like they had after every loss going into Missouri and like they had in every win when the opponent made a late run, USC found a way. The Gators were confident and moving very well on offense, always finding that last pass for a clear shot, but USC was turning to its vets to equal those shots.

Sindarius Thornwell and Michael Carrera stroked 3-pointers to restore leads, Laimonas Chatkevicius shook a game-long funk by recognizing that Thornwell had an uncontested dunk if he could just get him the ball and Mindaugas Kacinas played his best game in a month. USC didn’t erase the Mizzou loss, but it equaled it and took a step toward overcoming it.

“I thought our guys had lost perspective on success and were dwelling too much on the length of the season and being tired and the games are hard,” Martin said. “Those guys didn’t crack when it was hard. When we were in last place, those guys never doubted each other.”

It showed. USC found enough big plays to win, and with one more win, stands to pull off its biggest victory in years.

One more win, and those veterans end the way they deserve to.

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