Tyler Harris was everywhere.
The 6-foot-10 Auburn forward was moving all around South Carolina’s big men in the post, beating them down the floor for transition points and leaping over them for stick-backs. He was the biggest problem for the No. 22 Gamecocks, but by limiting the help he had, USC was able to win the game.
So what happens when a better big man (such as 7-0 man-mountain Damian Jones) and better help (such as an offense that strokes around nine 3-pointers per game and is second in the SEC with a 47.7 shooting percentage) appears immediately after Harris on the schedule?
Same approach. Take away space, move the center around, continue to be confident in what’s produced a 14-0 start – and take advantage of the home court.
The Gamecocks try to improve to 2-0 in the SEC for the first time since 2010 on Saturday when Vanderbilt visits, and are sticking to what got them here. Next game always on the mind, don’t worry about the last, and really don’t be concerned about more outside noise – like coach Frank Martin being named College Insider’s Jim Phelan Mid-Season Coach of the Year.
“I know the pressure’s on us to win, to keep it going,” said guard Sindarius Thornwell, who also said he had no idea of Martin’s award. “That’s all we’re focusing on.”
Thornwell spoke from experience, as he was around for last year’s dismal January. But he was also adhering to the common athletic motto – never mess with a winning streak.
He and his teammates do nothing different. There’s nothing to be gained by changing routines now. They’ll work on some of their weaknesses from Auburn and have scouted the Commodores, but the overall approach hasn’t changed since the balls were rolled out for the Norfolk State game.
Thornwell said it’s the guard’s responsibility to help the post with Jones. “We stand in a line and extend them out. Make it harder for them to get the ball into the post,” he said. “Make Damian Jones have to work off the block, get him out the paint a little bit where he has to play a little bit more.”
That would limit Jones’ looks at the rim and force him to show off his jumper, or pass back to the perimeter, where Vanderbilt is also dangerous. The Commodores’ 3-point prowess has produced many a curse from an opposing fan base.
“Get (them) off the 3-point line as much as possible,” guard P.J. Dozier said. “We know they’re looking for the 3-ball.”
USC has been a strong 3-point shooting team but will face a defense that is the best in the league at preventing 3s. Vandy holds opponents to 28.3 percent from long range, while the Gamecocks are normally 10 percentage points higher.
Colonial Life Arena had one of the best atmospheres in its history when USC was last home, a hard-fought win over Memphis. The Gamecocks are hoping for that one more time as the SEC home schedule begins.
It would help the fight against a team that’s been struggling, but a team that knows a win over a Top 25 team puts its season right back on track.
“Tough games, night-in and night-out,” Dozier said. “There’s no more easy games from here on out, and we know that.”
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VANDERBILT (8-6, 0-2 SEC) at NO. 22 SOUTH CAROLINA (14-0, 1-0)
When: 3 p.m. Saturday
Where: Colonial Life Arena, Columbia
Tickets: Available at the box office
Vanderbilt’s probable starters: G Wade Baldwin 6-3 So. (14.7 ppg, 3.9 rpg); G Matthew Fisher-Davis 6-5 So. (9.4 ppg, 3.8 rpg) G Riley LaChance 6-2 So. (9.0 ppg, 2.1 rpg); F Jeff Roberson 6-6 So. (8.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg); C Damian Jones 7-0 Jr. (13.4 ppg, 6.9 rpg)
South Carolina’s probable starters: G P.J. Dozier 6-6 Fr. (7.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg); G Sindarius Thornwell 6-5 Jr. (12.1 ppg, 5.0 rpg); F Mindaugas Kacinas 6-7 Sr. (11.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg); F Michael Carrera 6-5 Sr. (12.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg); C Laimonas Chatkevicius 6-11 Sr. (10.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg)
Next game: The Gamecocks tip off at Alabama at 9 p.m. on Wednesday.