Vanderbilt scouted P.J. Dozier.
The Commodores knew the 6-foot-7 freshman could direct traffic and score from the top of the key, his length enabling him to take one step, rise and finger-roll the ball to the rim. They defended him well, putting him on the bench with two early fouls.
As for his backup …
“He’s playing good,” coach Frank Martin said. “We were hard on him after that game against Francis Marion because he played with no confidence, and that’s not how he practiced. He did something right because he’s played real well since then, and we need him to keep doing that for us.”
Sophomore Marcus Stroman has flourished in No. 19 South Carolina’s past three games, showing why Martin had to have him on his team. Not a shooter, not a scorer, but a heady floor general, Stroman’s toughness has enabled him to take over when Dozier’s out of the game and keep the Gamecocks’ offense flowing.
“I show him stuff and he shows me stuff,” Stroman said of Dozier . “He’s really talented, but there are times where I show him what to do in certain situations.”
Some of those are how to keep the Gamecocks’ tempo afloat. It’s not a team that’s going to depend on one guy to score, and not a team that will rain 3-pointers or pound away inside.
It is a team that does all those things equally well, and Stroman is adept at directing it. Against Vanderbilt, he scored seven points along with two rebounds, three assists, zero turnovers – and one blocked shot.
“He was great in the offseason. I don’t mean good, he was great,” Martin said. “For whatever reason, the season started … he practiced pretty good, but he wouldn’t be very aggressive in games.”
It mimicked Stroman’s freshman year. He was doing well, especially for a freshman in the SEC, but a mysterious throat infection sidelined him for five games and dropped 20 pounds from a frame that could barely afford to lose five.
He returned, uniform billowing around his tentpole body, and was good, but obviously not what he had been. Stroman still won over his coach.
“Bless his soul, the courage that he had as a true freshman … we’re down to seven guys and he kind of knew, ‘Man, I got to play,’” Martin said. “He was healthy enough to play, but I don’t know how he did it.”
His offseason was spent rebuilding his body and strength, but his early-season performances weren’t great. Any point guard needs to know exactly what he’s about to do on any given play – shoot, pass or drive.
“Any of them three is always the right choice, even when it’s not the right choice,” Martin said. “But there’s one choice that’s always the wrong choice, which is hold the ball. Marcus was holding the ball before Christmas.”
Indecisiveness knocked back Stroman’s minutes, but a four-day sojourn over Christmas triggered something. Stroman came back more aggressive, more ready.
Which is why despite not being known as a shooter and especially not a 3-point shooter (he’d hit four in his career before Vandy), Stroman didn’t hesitate when passed the ball in the corner. His decision was already made before he got the ball and he was in his crouch when leather hit palm.
Swish. Dozier jotted it down as one more thing to work on.
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NO. 19 SOUTH CAROLINA (15-0, 2-0 SEC) at ALABAMA (9-5, 0-2)
When: 9 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Coleman Coliseum, Tuscaloosa, Ala.
TV: SEC Network
Tickets: Available at the box office
South Carolina’s probable starters: G P.J. Dozier 6-6 Fr. (7.9 ppg, 3.6 rpg); G Sindarius Thornwell 6-5 Jr. (12.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg); F Mindaugas Kacinas 6-7 Sr. (11.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg); F Michael Carrera 6-5 Sr. (11.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg); C Laimonas Chatkevicius 6-11 Sr. (10.8 ppg, 4.6 rpg)
Alabama’s probable starters: G Justin Coleman 5-10 So. (8.3 ppg, 2.0 rpg); G Retin Obasohan 6-2 Sr. (14.6 ppg, 2.9 rpg); G Arthur Edwards 6-6 Sr. (10.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg); F Jimmie Taylor 6-10 Jr. (5.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg); F Michael Kessens 6-9 Jr. (4.4 ppg, 3.7 rpg)
Next game: The Gamecocks host Missouri at 1 p.m. on Saturday.