Is South Carolina an NCAA Tournament team? Frank Martin weighs in
Frank Martin says it ages him. The way South Carolina digs itself an early hole before waking up and rallying past an SEC opponent, that recent trend isn’t making the Gamecocks’ 52-year-old coach any younger.
His hair thins. His voice grows more hoarse.
USC was at it again Tuesday against Ole Miss. Instead of putting an end to their maddening ways and rolling the Rebels from the opening tip, the Gamecocks played to their narrative. They couldn’t crack the lid on the basket on one end and allowed everything to swish on the other. Coveted fourth place in the SEC was on the line and to get in an 11-point deficit less than four minutes wasn’t ideal.
But, remember, this is how Carolina rolls in 2019. If you were nervous, you aren’t paying attention.
The Gamecocks beat the Rebels, 79-64, before a crowd of 10,455 at Colonial Life Arena. Chris Silva scored 18 points, Hassani Gravett and A.J. Lawson added 15 apiece and Martin got grayer.
“Let’s try to figure out a way to be up 13-2 and not down 13-2,” Martin said. “It would be a lot easier on things.”
USC (14-12, 9-4) moved a game ahead of Ole Miss (18-8, 8-5) for No. 4 in the league standings. The victory is Carolina’s fifth this SEC season after being down double-digits.
Maybe because he’s used to it — or maybe because he didn’t see any glaring problems — Martin said he handled the early deficit better Tuesday than previously similar rallies against Florida, Vanderbilt, Arkansas and Texas A&M.
“I felt completely different today when we were down 13-2 than I did in the previous couple games,” Martin said. “Completely different because I felt our defense was pretty good. On offense, we were locked in and attacking — we were just missing shots.”
The Rebels, Martin felt, were making contested jumpers while the Gamecocks were just missing good looks. When those things reversed, South Carolina hardly looked back.
Over the first half’s final 16 minutes, USC outscored Ole Miss, 38-19. It hit 13 of 16 field goals during one stretch, including consecutive 3-pointers from Silva and Gravett that capped a 16-0 run and put the Gamecocks up 18-13.
“We knew we had to pick up the intensity,” Silva said. “So our guys got on the same page and we just turned it up.”
Ole Miss made its first five shots and then went on an eight-minute scoring drought. USC held the Rebels to 37.1 percent shooting, the lowest by a Carolina opponent in SEC play.
“Probably the best 40 minutes of defensive basketball that we’ve played in a long time,” Martin said. “Which, once again, just shows me how connected these kids are with what we’re trying to do.”
Lawson finished with 15 points, nine rebounds, six assists and a team-high three steals. With 5:39 left in the first half, the freshman had a put-back slam that sent CLA into a frenzy.
The house rocked again in the second half when the Gamecocks, after Ole Miss made it 61-all with 6:15 left, went on a 9-0 run that all put the game away.
USC, the SEC’s leader in this category, was again prolific from beyond the arc, hitting 47 percent of their 3s. Gravett hit two daggers in the final 5:29.
“Give Frank and South Carolina a bunch of credit,” said Ole Miss coach Kermit Davis. “They out-toughed us. We got out to big lead and they just totally, like men among boys out there, killed us on the glass. ... We got the game got tied, but we just couldn’t get stops.”
Irmo’s Devontae Shuler started and scored six points for the Rebels.
South Carolina next travels to Mississippi State on Saturday.
SOUTH CAROLINA 79, MISSISSIPPI 64
Olejniczak 1-3 1-2 3, Shuler 2-7 1-2 6, Tyree 7-15 5-7 19, T.Davis 6-17 4-6 18, B.Hinson 3-10 0-0 8, Stevens 1-5 0-0 2, Naylor 1-2 0-0 2, Buffen 2-2 0-0 4, D.Davis 0-0 0-0 0, Rodriguez 0-1 2-2 2. Totals 23-62 13-19 64.
SOUTH CAROLINA (14-12)
Kotsar 1-5 0-4 2, Bryant 4-6 2-2 10, Silva 5-13 6-6 18, Lawson 5-14 4-8 15, Campbell 3-9 1-2 8, Haase 2-4 0-0 5, Frink 3-4 0-1 6, Gravett 4-9 3-4 15. Totals 27-64 16-27 79.
Halftime_South Carolina 40-32. 3-Point Goals_Mississippi 5-23 (B.Hinson 2-5, T.Davis 2-8, Shuler 1-4, Stevens 0-2, Tyree 0-4), South Carolina 9-19 (Gravett 4-6, Silva 2-3, Haase 1-2, Lawson 1-4, Campbell 1-4). Fouled Out_Olejniczak. Rebounds_Mississippi 33 (Buffen 8), South Carolina 40 (Lawson 9). Assists_Mississippi 10 (Tyree 5), South Carolina 15 (Lawson 6). Total Fouls_Mississippi 22, South Carolina 15. A_10,455 (18,000).
Who: South Carolina at Mississippi State
When: 6 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23
Where: Humphrey Coliseum in Starkville, Mississippi
TV: SEC Network