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Fans got their first look at the 2013-14 Gamecock basketball team on Sunday afternoon, as South Carolina raced out to a 44-27 halftime lead over the USC-Aiken Pacers before holding on to ultimately prevail, 84-72. Despite their Division II status, the Pacers (as we noted in our preview) were no slouches last year, and came into this game ranked fourth in Division II and off a trip to Oxford, Mississippi where they took the Ole Miss Rebels (sans Marshall Henderson) to overtime before falling 75-70.
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The Gamecocks prevailed on the strength of their ability to get to the free throw line (almost half the shots they took were from the line) and making the shots they took there, converting at a 79% clip. While the turnovers are of course something to be concerned about, it's to be expected with a team this young. It was also surprising to see the OReb% rates similar between the teams, but Michael Carrera played only 17 minutes. Which reminds me of the most important thing to take away from this game - it didn't matter. It was good to get the guys out there and see what they could do, but there's nothing to take from this game other than no one got hurt.
This space will normally include the information for the opposition as well, but today, it doesn't matter. One of the most interesting things we could try to glean from this game is who we think Martin will play in the early portion of the season. It seemed to me that Duane Notice will be the man most likely charged with running the point, and his six assists to one turnover suggest he may be the man to handle the job. Jaylen Shaw looked overmatched at times, and you wonder if he's going to be able to take on that role against opponents like Baylor or Oklahoma State so soon.
The other very impressive aspect of this game from my perspective was how much the Gamecocks' new size advantage showed up. At the start of the game, Carolina rolled out Notice (6'2"), Thornwell (6'5"), Carerra (6'5"), Demetrius Henry (6'9"), and Laimonas Chatkevicius (6'11"). For a team whose players last year (when weighed for playing time) only stood 6'3.2" against the NCAA average of around 6'47", that's a size advantage that we simply didn't have last year. It showed up in a very big way against the Pacers - as you see above, they only made 29% of their shots from the interior, which was significantly aided by the fact that they blocked 7 of their 38 attempts (a block percentage of 18.4%, which would've been good for 2nd in the NCAA last year).
South Carolina struggled to hold just about anyone under one point per possession last season, so that 0.889 at the bottom of the box score shouldn't be taken for granted. While the offense will have to improve over time - and it may struggle to do so during the opening part of the season as this team desperately awaits Tyrone Johnson - there were things to feel good about today.
We'll spend the week previewing the Gamecocks in advance of their season opener, next Saturday at 1pm against the Longwood Lancers.