Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports
The Gamecocks ended the home slate on a positive note tonight, defeating Miss. St. 79-72. After a close first half, the Gamecocks took over early in the second half; Miss. St. would rally, but the Gamecocks would hold on. Brenton Williams was the star of the evening. His 38 points (10-17 shooting and 12-12 [!] from the line) were the most by an individual Gamecock since the Downey years.
At 8-21 for the year, MSU is a very bad basketball team, once that had lost over a dozen straight before a surprising win over Ole Miss over the weekend. As such, don't make too much of this win. It was great to see Carolina send Lakeem Jackson out on a positive note, but I wouldn't take this win to mean much regarding this team's progress over the season.
If there's one thing to take away, though, it's that Carolina has kept trying over the second half of the season. There was a point where Carolina lost a few games by double digits that made me worry that we would fold and go down in flames like last year's team. If nothing else, Frank Martin and his team avoided that this year, playing to win until the end. If we went down, we went down fighting.
That may be part of the benefit of one of the more significant details about the game, Martin's continued fiddling with playing time. Walk-ons Brian Steele and Shane Phillips started tonight, and while Phillips in part got his start because he's a senior, Steele, who also started against TAMU over the weekend, is not. If he's willing to start Steele over Damien Leonard and Brian Richardson, clearly, Martin's promise to play the guys who practice like they want to play has teeth--not that we didn't already know that, of course. Some may wonder why Martin doesn't just play the best guys. It goes to the culture of the program. Just like a big part of what Steve Spurrier did with our football program involved changing the culture among fans and getting players on the roster who were committed to competing at the highest level, so, too, does Martin face a monumental challenge in changing the culture within our basketball program. Did Martin lost the chance at a win or two with some of his personnel decisions over the course of the year? Maybe. You certainly have to wonder after tonight if Williams shouldn't have been getting more minutes all along. But Martin's task isn't to marginally exceed .500 this year. It's to build a long-term winner, and that takes building the right culture from the get-go. Williams, for his part, seems to have caught on, considering the effort he showed today. Hopefully more will in the future.