Longwood is not a very good basketball team. But the Gamecocks spent last season in dogfights with bad basketball teams, struggling to put away Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Appalachian State, and South Carolina State last season, the Gamecocks made no mistake in their season opener, using tenacious defense to stifle the Longwood Lancers and coming away with an 82-44 win.
While the offensive performance was certainly nothing to get excited about, the Gamecocks could occasionally break out with offensive production last season. But this was easily the best defensive effort of the Frank Martin era so far, holding Longwood to only 0.616 points per possession over the game, a number that ticked up markedly in the last 10 minutes of the game when the Gamecocks finally took their foot off the gas with the game well in hand.
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The Lancers simply could not find shots they could make on Saturday. They shot 9-35 from 2PA and that mark was heavily influenced by South Carolina forcing the Lancers into bad shots or outright rejecting their shots (the Gamecocks combined for 8 blocks, or 22.9% of Longwood's two-point shots). That left the Lancers to take more opportunities from the outside, where they shot a woeful 18% on the day. While Carolina won't want to let lesser teams play the three-point lottery at such a high rate in the future, if they're doing it because they simply can't make 2PAs, then that also likely means their 3PAs are worse three-pointers than the average shot, which will drive down that percentage.
The Gamecocks controlled the defensive interior on rebounds as well, grabbing 28 of the first 31 Longwood misses before the numbers started to slip late in the contest, bed by Mindaugas Kacinas with 9 defensive rebounds and Michael Carrera who added 7 more.
Most impressively for a Frank Martin-coached team, especially with the new NCAA rules going into force, is that they did it without fouling the Lancers at horrid rates - while the 38.6% defensive FTR is nothing to write home about, its a weakness of our style that we certainly didn't let become a crucial weakness on the day.
The Gamecocks ran a surprisingly short bench on Saturday, especially given the size of the lead and the tendency of Frank Martin to rotate 9-10 guys onto the floor, even more so in the opening portions of the season. Michael Carrera and Brenton Williams came off the bench to contribute key minutes, and Chatkevicius and Ringer saw minutes before garbage time, but Martin relied primarily on the top seven players listed above.
It's hard to be upset at him for doing so - it worked. With Johnson eligible due to a last-minute ruling by the NCAA, the Gamecock's line-up averaged over 6'5", length and size that bothered the Lancers all afternoon.
The seven players who Carolina did run out for substantial minutes all played efficient basketball games, contributing to the bottom line offensively in some form or fashion. Tyrone Johnson bore most of the weight on his shoulders, slashing to the basket with regularity on his way to 18 points on 6-9 shooting from the field and 6-7 shooting from the line, while also dishing out three assists.
Michael Carrera are Brenton Williams were also major offensive contributors off the bench. Carrera threw in 12 points by moving around the floor, making two FTAs, two 2PAs, and two 3PAs. Brenton Williams continued to show his ability to be a force offensively, adding 14 points in 22 minutes and avoiding turnovers entirely.
Speaking of turnovers, the only mild irritant on the day was a slight carelessness with the basketball, hopefully caused in part by the first-game jitters. Johnson handed the ball away four times while Notice added three more, and their responsibilities will only get harder on Tuesday night in Waco against the Baylor Bears.
Still, this game is nothing but a positive. The Gamecocks played putrid defense for large swathes of last season, and it crippled their chances to win games even on nights where they could find some semblance of an offense. While it's just one (weak) opponent, and it hasn't been tested yet against teams with real interior presences, for at least one afternoon during the 2013-14 season, South Carolina gave its fans reason to think they'll be much improved in the second season under Frank Martin.
The Gamecocks are back on the court Tuesday afternoon against the #25 Baylor Bears, who are fresh off an opening night win over the Colorado Buffaloes, 72-60 in Dallas. That game tips off in Waco at 3pm ET and will be televised on ESPN.