The game against Baylor was understandable - a top 25, tournament bound team on the road. Clemson and Manhattan both shot two of the best nights they'll ever have from the free throw line, and you can't defend teams when they're at the stripe. And Oklahoma State is Oklahoma State.
But there's not much to salvage from this one. South Carolina got out-muscled inside and failed to press any real advantages against the Spartans, and once they stopped missing three pointers, the Gamecocks did not respond. Playing poorly on both sides of the court, the Gamecocks fell to a team that ultimately deserved to win on the evening. And without bad luck to blame the loss on, South Carolina is left wondering just how bad this season could get?
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There's nothing good to be seen here. On offense, South Carolina was entirely too reliant on Sindarius Thornwell and Bruce Ellington, the first by necessity, the latter by choice, design, or some other uknowable reason. Thornwell took 18 of the team's 69 shots in 29 minutes (making 6, two of them 3s), or 36% of the shots taken by the team while he was on the court. To put that in perspective, he'd have ranked 10th in the nation at that rate last season, right alongside Creighton star Doug McDermott. Thornwell is good, but he ain't McDermott.
Ellington was 3-13 from the field with two three pointers helping to slightly boost his efficiency. But a guy who's been in the gym for two weeks shouldn't be taking 26% of the shots available to him, and far too often Bruce did what he's done too often in his time at Carolina - starting taking bad shots early in the clock instead of running the offense.
Tyrone Johnson wasn't half bad, going 2-6 from the field but getting to the line (7-8 from there) to finish with 11 points, though only three assists. But no one on the team hit over 50% of their shots from the field. It was a collective failure of the offense and of the team - the Gamecocks at times moved the ball around the zone and found the open man (there were two easy bunnys for Chatkevicius through this offense), but far too often settled for the second- or third-best shot. Often that was a 3PA, which I'd suggested we should take more of, but 25' shots with 20 seconds left in the shot clock aren't good enough. They have to come through the offense, and the set offense was once again woeful on Thursday.
Down low, South Carolina looked lost without Carrera and was exposed for its severe shortage of post depth. With Henry saddled with four fouls most of the second half (he fouled out with 4 minutes remaining), Kacinas and Ringer saw extended minutes, and neither wanted anything to do with the offense. Kacinas scored five points in 36 minutes of action, only taking 8% of the shots available to him, which forced the guards to shoulder more weight. Ringer only took 12% of the shots out there in his 14 minutes, and when the two played together, there simply wasn't an offense to be run - it was hope and pray we were in transition.
Given that, Kacinas and Ringer simply can't play together. But with Chatkevicius and Henry saddled with foul trouble, they did so for stretches tonight, an evening where the Gamecocks desperately needed Michael Carrera's presence on the court. The problem with his move to the 3 is that we simply don't have the frontcourt to put two capable players down low without him in that rotation, and that was exploited mercilessly tonight by Upstate (imagine what bigger, better teams will do down the road). I agree with the concept of Carrera at the 3, but given this team's personnel, I don't think it can work this year.
Speaking of Carrera, his absence was felt on the offensive glass, where the Gamecocks weren't terrible but didn't press the advantage in the way you'd want them to against a team that doesn't have great interior presence. Much of that is likely attributable to the increase in 3PAs, as those are typically more likely to be rebounded by the defense, but it was still an area you'd hoped to see the Gamecocks play better in given their offensive struggles otherwise.
On the other end of the court, the interior defense remained porous - when Upstate went inside it was to make a 2 (over 50%) or get fouled (a laughably high FTR of 62%). If it sacrifices rebounding so be it, but the Gamecocks have to switch to zone or otherwise figure out a way to keep the ball outside the paint, because once it's there, it's game over. For the second year in a row, South Carolina looks helpless when it plays interior defense, and it's simply too easy to gameplan how to defeat this team right now.
There aren't many positives in this post because there weren't many to take away from this game. Hats off to USC Upstate and coach Eddie Payne for a deserved victory over a now reeling Gamecock squad, who gets on a plane to take on an excellent St. Mary's team out in Hawaii. There's a lot of season left and this team can get better, but given that it's only December, it's depressing to think that even the lowest hopes for the year (the NIT) appear to already be out the window.