The Gamecocks went into College Station knowing that, for the third time in their first three SEC games, they'd be facing one of the best defenses the conference offers. For the first time in those three games, Carolina met the challenge, scoring 67 points in just 64 possessions against the Aggies.
It wasn't enough. The Gamecocks tend to struggle on interior defense, and on this night let a woeful A&M offense score 75 points against them thanks to 15-24 (63%) shooting from the inside and 41 free throw attempts (with 24 makes) thanks to 31 personal fouls against Carolina. Along with another common struggle from this season - turnovers - it sufficed to send South Carolina to 0-3 in SEC play on the season.
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In spite of another porous night protecting the basketball - the 17 turnovers represent the third game in a row where a quarter or more of Carolina's possessions did not end in a shot attempt - the Gamecocks did enough offensively to win the game on Wednesday night. Carolina found easy lay-ups by running its offense against A&M's aggressive man-to-man defense, hammered the offensive glass, and got to the line with some regularity (where they converted their opportunities). With a few less turnovers, this would be a very strong offensive performance, but over a point per possession against a team with as weak an offense as A&M's should be enough to win.
Instead, seven of the eight Aggies that saw the court hit 50% or better from 2, as Carolina could not stop A&M without fouling, which led to A&M taking 41 free throws against only 40 field goal attempts. Thus, despite a decent effort in turning A&M over and keeping them off the boards, Carolina simply allowed too many easy points - the 24-16 difference in made free throws represents the margin of victory - to walk away with a win from Reed Arena.
For the second time in his two trips to College Station with the Gamecocks, Martin expanded his roster. Though Brian Steele didn't see the floor this time around - he suffered an eye contusion that left him unavailable to play even if Martin wanted him to do so - Justin McKie played 10 minutes in the second half after Tyrone Johnson went down thanks to inexcusable positioning by the game official, who drifted onto the floor by wrongly anticipating Johnson's movement. After the game, Carolina's worst fears were realized:
Frank Martin tells us in our post-game interview that Ty Johnson has a broken foot.— Andy Demetra (@GamecockRadio) January 16, 2014
The injury - along with foul trouble from Sindarius Thornwell (who fouled out) and Duane Notice during the second half - required Martin to expand the bench. Fortunately for him and the Gamecocks, McKie responded with 11 solid second-half minutes where he scored 5 points in on 2-3 shooting to go with 3 defensive rebounds and no turnovers. With Johnson expected out for most of the remainder of the season, he may get the opportunity to see increased minutes as the Gamecocks continue through their SEC schedule.
Elsewhere for Carolina, Duane Notice played well in the absence of Tyrone Johnson, adding 12 pionts on 3-7 shooting while getting to and making free throws (5-7). Most importantly for Notice, he doled out five assists against only one turnover, a ratio the Gamecocks need maintained with Notice now the primary point guard for the foreseeable future.
His backcourt mate Brenton Williams played his highest number of minutes this season and led the way in scoring for Carolina, scoring 14 points in 36 minutes on 3-10 shooting from the field (though like Notice, he made up for that by getting 6 free throw attempts, and as is typical of Brenton, making all 6). Unlike Duane, however, Brenton turned the ball over three times and didn't commit a single assist.
In the frontcourt, Desmond Ringer played a career-high 28 minutes and scored 9 points, grabbed 7 rebounds (3 offensive), and dished out 2 assists (with 2 turnovers). Chatkevicius similarly scored efficiently in his 10 minutes, with 8 points on 4-5 shooting with 4 rebounds (2 offensive), but his inability to avoid his two turnovers certainly hurt Carolina's chances to walk away with a win. Chatkevicius and Ringer ate into Mindaugas Kacinas' playing time, as he only saw the floor for 10 minutes, committing 4 fouls in the process while only scoring 3 points.
Going forward, Carolina needs to rebound both from the loss to A&M as well as the loss of Tyrone Johnson, as it welcomes Ole Miss to Colonial Life Arena at 4:30pm on Saturday. With the early departure of Bruce Ellington to the NFL Draft, that leaves the Gamecocks with only one true point guard on the roster - Duane Notice. As folks recall, the Gamecocks only played five games in the first month of the season due to a fear of going into major games without Tyrone Johnson and Bruce Ellington. They now face the meat of their SEC schedule without both.