The Frank Martin era began in exciting fashion this afternoon in the Colonial Life Arena, with the Gamecocks upending Milwaukee 82-75 in overtime. LaShay Page led Carolina with 19 points, while Michael Carrera added a double-double and Brenton Williams tacked on 14. Lakeem Jackson was the team's iron man, playing the full 40 minutes and doing a bit of everything.
The takeaways from this game were largely positive, in my opinion. Don't get me wrong. At one point, we were down by double-digits to Milwaukee, and we needed overtime to beat them. Kentucky or Florida would have beaten Milwaukee by thirty or forty points, and they might beat us like that, too. Talent-wise, this team isn't ready to win the SEC. I'm holding out hope that Bruce Ellington will make a difference when he joins the team, but he won't be able to solve the team's main problem, which is a lack of size in the post. Carrera is a great competitor and is probably a fan favorite in the making, but he's going to have trouble against elite SEC teams. Ellington will, though, negate the need to give Eric Smith so many minutes. Smith struggled again this afternoon, and I'm looking forward to seeing a primary back court rotation of Ellington, Page, Williams, and Damien Leonard, if Leonard can find his touch.
Although lack of talent is going to hurt us this season, I thought the team looked significantly better coached today than it did last year. There were multiple noticeable differences. First of all, the offense is much more active and features plenty of motion, cuts away from the ball, attacking the basket off the dribble, etc. Frank Martin has clearly impressed upon these guys that he's not going to accept an offense that's comprised of nothing but jacking up contested threes. Indeed, if there was one thing that impressed me most about the coaching in this game, it was that Martin must have given our guys the red light when it became apparent that we weren't making many shots from down town early in the game. We consequently started attacking the basket, and good things happened. Another big feature is how well this team gets to the line. Martin said in the preseason that he was ready to win ugly if necessary, and we do that by seeking contact and getting to the line. We also make our foul shots--we were 26-31 today. In short, this seems like a team that knows who it is and is going to build an identity around what it has. That's a testament to Martin's coaching, and his success in getting his team to buy into his approach.
The team's work paid off today with a win, and this year, a win really is a win. There are going to be losses this year. Plenty of them. But if the team keeps doing things like it did today, I also think we'll outpace last year's win total, which will be an accomplishment for this young team. One thing I really like right now is that we've got a very favorable OOC schedule. Not many resume games in there, but plenty of opportunities for wins and increased confidence.