Frank Martin's squad picked up a big SEC victory on the road in Baton Rouge tonight, beating LSU 82-73 in OT. The win was the the first road win in conference for Carolina since 2010-2011, when Carolina won in Baton Rouge on 2/11/2011. It was Carolina's first SEC win, period, since the Gamecocks beat UGA on 2/15 of last year. Conference wins have been a rarity for USC in recent years, so I think we can safely say this is a game to be happy about.
The win didn't play out as one might have expected it to. Damien Leonard and Brian Richardson, two of the Gamecocks' stars in recent weeks, played a combined four minutes and didn't have any points. I'm guessing this was because Martin wasn't confident in their ability to guard LSU's quick guards, but I'm not really sure about that. Brenton Williams played a lot of minutes in their absence. The results were mixed, with Williams scoring 16 on 9-10 FT shooting but going 3-13 from the field and 1-7 from beyond the arc. Bruce Ellington also struggled from the field. On the other hand, the Gamecocks' front court had its best game of the season, with R.J. Slawson, Michael Carrera, and Lakeem Jackson each scoring in double figures, and Carrera and Jackson going double-double. Carrera had a particularly strong game, with some of his best play coming in the overtime period, where he knocked down key shots and made his FTs in the final seconds to put the game away.
The other two big stories regarding how the game played out are that Carolina shot 36 total FTs, a number somewhat inflated by its several attempts in the final seconds but remarkable all the same, as well as the 21-14, +7 TO ratio, which needless to say is an improvement over recent performances. The numbers I like here are the FTAs and the fewer TOs committed. Martin prides himself on his teams' ability to get to the line, and you saw Carolina have more success in that area tonight than in recent games, with positive results. As bad as our front line might seem, it can have a bigger impact on the game if it continues drawing fouls, as Slawson and Carrera are decent from the line. I also saw the team do a better job of protecting the ball, and that's something they can continue to do if they stay focused. The other side of the turnover equation, LSU's egregious number of giveaways, may be harder to sustain.
Cocks win the game by avoiding turnovers and getting to the stripe. Not sure we can force TOs at a 34% rate in future, but worked tonight.— ChickenHoops (@chickenhoops) January 17, 2013
That said, it might balance out with improvements on tonight's meager rebounding performance as things return to the mean.
In any event, the best aspect of the win is that Carolina stops its two-game losing streak, in a game where it had to beat the late-game bugaboo, at that. The team gains a little confidence instead of descending into a fully fledged tailspin. A win over a very beatable Vandy team this weekend will put the team at 2-2 in the league. Do that, and, with a manageable SEC schedule, perhaps we can figure out how to finish close to .500 in league play.