Frank Martin wants his team to be aggressive on the glass. He can live with sparse steals and turnovers as long as South Carolina dustbusts the boards.
Not that having all three is a bad thing.
The Gamecocks overwhelmed North Florida 81-56 on Friday in the season-opener for each team, using lockdown rebounding to key a first-half offensive explosion. While Martin wasn’t pleased that the Gamecocks didn’t sustain it throughout the second half, it was a solid way to start the year.
“We didn’t practice real well this week. I actually had to throw them out two days ago from practice,” Martin said. “We’ve got a chance to be a good defensive team. I was happy the first half. I don’t think we were very good in the second half.”
The Gamecocks (1-0) didn’t allow an offensive rebound in the first half and forced nine turnovers as they sprinted past the Ospreys (0-1) 48-27. UNF ended with six offensive boards on 35 missed shots and 15 turnovers, seven of which were Gamecock steals.
“If we can get a quick-hitter or transition 3, that’s better for us,” senior point guard Ty Johnson said. “Pushing the ball and playing defense is best for us.”
USC, with a rare height advantage, took what it was given when the Ospreys opened in a 1-3-1 zone. The Gamecocks worked past the length at the top of the key with superior ball-handling, finding forward Demetrius Henry for three quick dunks.
“The guards made good penetration, and I got in the right spot to get easy buckets around the rim,” said Henry, who tied for the team lead with 12 points.
North Florida quickly discarded the set but the Gamecocks had already popped the clutch. Johnson scored 12, leading the way as he drove into the lane before lifting teardrop shots over outstretched Osprey arms, and he was backed by Duane Notice and freshman Marcus Stroman, who had a wonderful debut.
Stroman, the only member of a four-man recruiting class that will play this year, scored six points with six assists, taking over for Johnson early when Johnson injured a finger. The rookie calmly dribbled past the defense, recording zero turnovers after having seven in the Gamecocks’ exhibition win.
With all systems glowing green, USC filled the basket. Ten of the available 11 scored. Laimonas Chatkevicius scored 11 points, and Mindaugas Kacinas had nine with 11 rebounds. Star Sindarius Thornwell had six points, yet it didn’t matter.
The Ospreys, known for firing 3-pointers, hoisted 32 and made 10. Many attempts were in the final 15 minutes when the game was no longer in doubt, but the lackadaisical attitude toward defending the perimeter in the first half raised Martin’s hairline.
“This team has a chance to be a good basketball team,” Martin said. “Unfortunately, early in the year, we didn’t handle the game the right way. We came out to play it the right way, but then we allowed the habits that we created during the week in practice to surface once the score got tilted the one way.”
Martin liked how the Gamecocks started the game and the chemistry of his players. While short in number, all but Stroman have been with each other for at least a year. There isn’t as much wide-eyed looking around as there has been the past two seasons.
The first game wasn’t perfect, but Martin felt better than other season-openers. With Baylor in on Tuesday, the Gamecocks are hoping to play a complete 40 minutes.
“For the past two years, we’ve scrapped and fought to win games like this by 10, 12 points in the second half,” Martin said. “We got a little immature. We started playing the score rather than playing the game.”
Johnson played the final 30 minutes with the last two fingers of his right hand taped together. He said he would be fine for the Baylor game, and Martin concurred.
“He might point the wrong direction for a couple of days, but he’ll be OK,” Martin said. “I think he fell on that hand, and kind of sprained, semi-dislocated, I don’t know. That thing was sideways.”
NORTH FLORIDA (0-1)
Nesbitt 2-5 2-3 8, Beech 3-7 0-0 9, Moore 7-13 4-4 21, Banks 0-6 4-7 4, Davenport 3-4 0-0 6, Wilson 0-1 0-0 0, Mackey 1-7 0-0 3, Bodager 1-7 0-0 3, Daniels 1-3 0-2 2. Totals 18-53 10-16 56.
SOUTH CAROLINA (1-0)
Thornwell 3-7 0-0 6, Johnson 5-7 2-3 12, Notice 2-5 3-4 8, Henry 6-9 0-0 12, Carrera 2-4 4-6 8, Stroman 3-7 0-0 6, Chatkevicius 4-6 3-4 11, Theus Jr. 0-0 0-0 0, McKie 0-3 3-4 3, Kacinas 2-5 4-5 9, Steele 2-4 0-0 6. Totals 29-57 19-26 81.
Halftime: South Carolina 48-27. 3-Point Goals: North Florida 10-32 (Moore 3-5, Beech 3-7, Nesbitt 2-4, Bodager 1-7, Mackey 1-7, Davenport 0-1, Daniels 0-1), South Carolina 4-11 (Steele 2-4, Notice 1-1, Kacinas 1-2, Stroman 0-1, Thornwell 0-1, McKie 0-2). Fouled Out: Beech, Daniels, Davenport, Henry. Rebounds_North Florida 28 (Nesbitt 6), South Carolina 42 (Kacinas 11). Assists: North Florida 9 (Mackey 3), South Carolina 19 (Stroman 6). Total Fouls: North Florida 22, South Carolina 15. Attendance: 10,473.