USC Men's Basketball

USC has a blueprint to challenge No. 1 Tennessee. Can the Gamecocks execute it?

South Carolina on Wednesday will be the third team this season to get a second crack at No. 1 Tennessee. Missouri cut its margin of defeat by 12 points while Florida lost by more in its rematch with the Volunteers.

USC coach Frank Martin spent Sunday bunkered in his office with assistant Bruce Shingler. The two watched again the Volunteers’ 92-70 win over the Gamecocks from last month. They’ve translated their notes to a scouting report and the Carolina players have prepared accordingly.

So how will it impact the final result in Knoxville?

Tennessee (22-1, 10-0 SEC) is given at least a 40 percent chance to win the remainder of its regular season games, according to For Round 2 with USC, the Vols are given a 96 percent chance at victory.

There’s a daunting challenge facing the Gamecocks (12-11, 7-3) at Thompson-Boling Arena. But at least there’s no mystery.

USC knows exactly what it has to do better to have a shot at a stunning upset. The Jan. 29 experience gave the Gamecocks a blueprint.

Finish strong

The 22-point loss masks the fact USC was within two with 13 minutes left.

“We were locked in,” said Chris Silva. “We just had two mental breakdowns on defense that allowed them to go up.”

Down 65-61 at the 10:44 mark, the Volunteers hit 3-pointers on consecutive possessions to begin their pull-away. It was a finish uncharacteristic of this Carolina team.

Take the Tennessee contest out and the Gamecocks have outscored SEC opponents, 197-157, in the final 10 minutes of games. The Vols ended the Jan. 29 contest on a 21-9 run.

“The wheels came off,” Martin said. “Missed shot, missed shot, missed shot. They score, score, score. So all of a sudden a four-point game becomes 14. And when it got away from us there, we never did a very good job of fighting to give us a chance coming down the stretch.”

Hit jump shots, a lot of them

Keyshawn Bryant had 15 points in a half against Arkansas on Saturday. He failed to score against Tennessee. Hassani Gravett averages over two 3-pointers a game in SEC play. He didn’t make one against Tennessee. A.J. Lawson missed four 3s against the Volunteers and Felipe Haase didn’t attempt one.

“When we made mistakes on the perimeter and they got open 3s,” Martin said, “they made them. When they made mistakes and we got open 3s, we missed them.

“You’re not going to beat the No. 1 team in the country shooting layups. That’s the objective, but you gotta make jump shots. If you remember when we played Virginia, I said, ‘You’re going to beat Virginia, you gotta make 3s.’ If you’re going to beat Tennessee, you’re going to have to make your open perimeter shots. And you don’t have to make 100 percent of them — that would be nice — but you gotta make a good percentage of them.”

Vanderbilt, which took the Vols to overtime on Jan. 23, made 10 of 21 of its 3-pointers against Tennessee.

Help a freshman

Silva vs. Grant Williams was the featured matchup in Round 1 that lived up to the hype. Two of the SEC’s best post players put on a show, combining for 51 points and 19 rebounds.

But where the Vols established their biggest edge was on the wing. Admiral Schofield (24 points, nine boards) dominated Bryant (no points, one board). The junior’s experience and size (238 pounds to Bryant’s 190) overwhelmed the rookie.

Bryant hasn’t gotten much older since the last week of January. He certainly hasn’t gotten any bigger. Can the Gamecocks provide him with more assistance this time around?

“It’s not just (Bryant),” Martin said. “It’s everybody that matches up with Schofield. He’s a hard matchup at the 3 for most people. So they understand what we try to do and we gotta fight to defend it a little bit better.”

Turn someone into Duane Notice

Two years after he was a nonfactor against the Gamecocks in CLA (four points in an 82-55 Tennessee loss), Jordan Bone made his case as the most important player on the floor.

UT’s junior was the equivalent of Schofield at point guard. Bone got anywhere he wanted to en route to a 19-point, nine-assist performance.

“He got that ball downhill and into the paint way too easy and way too much,” Martin said. “That’s what he does. He came here as a freshman and there’s a guy named Duane Notice, who said ‘You’re not doing that.’ And he couldn’t do it.

“He’s continued to get better. He’s fast. Our big guys have to do a better job of helping his matchup to keep him out of the paint.”

The Volunteers scored 22 more points in the paint than the Gamecocks.

Next game

Who: South Carolina (12-11, 7-3 SEC) at No. 1 Tennessee (22-1, 10-0)

When: 6:30 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Thompson-Boling Arena

TV: SEC Network

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Andrew Ramspacher has been covering college athletics since 2010, serving as The State’s USC men’s basketball beat writer since October 2017. His work has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors, Virginia Press Association and West Virginia Press Association. At a program-listed 5-foot-10, he’s always been destined to write about the game. Not play it.
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