After a two-point loss to Baylor last Tuesday, South Carolina entered Littlejohn Arena on Sunday afternoon hopeful that a second straight solid performance on the road could help lead them to a victory over arch-rival Clemson. However, unlike the Bears, the Tigers couldn't miss from the free throw line, and that made all the difference in the Tigers' 71-57 victory over Carolina on Sunday evening.
Clemson ended up with 26 opportunities from the line and converted 24, a 92.3% mark that set the all-time school record for highest free throw percentage in a game (minimum 25 attempts). That mark, combined with Carolina's inability to get or make shots from the line or from three-point range doomed the Gamecocks on the evening.
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While the game felt like Carolina was dominated in all phases, in fact the major issue the team had on the day was simply the inability to make shots (particularly from three-point range and the foul line) and a Clemson free throw percentage that was simply beyond their control. if each team had shot the NCAA averages from downtown (33%) and the line (68.5%), the game is virtually even. Of course, credit to the Tigers for making those shots, but I don't think the Gamecocks are such a poor shooting team that those numbers won't even out as the season goes along. Unfortunately, evening out over the long-run doesn't make the loss to Clemson any easier to swallow.
South Carolina stayed in the game by dominating the offensive glass, which led to a huge field goal attempt disparity (17 more shots), though some of that advantage was mitigated by the Tigers' 26-18 advantage in free throw attempts. South Carolina's dominant offensive rebounding came to play Sunday - unfortunately, their inside shooting game couldn't get past K.J. McDaniels, who led Clemson's 21.8% block percentage (blocks of 2PAs) with seven rejections. If Carolina converts a few more blocks into makes (or into fouls), they've got a different game on their hand. While Clemson certainly didn't dominate the Gamecocks inside on offense (shooting 47% from 2PA and only grabbing 26% of their own misses), they were able to continually get to the free throw line, and once they got there, they couldn't miss.
Sindarius Thornwell played another excellent game when he was able to get his shot, but the difference between this outing and the game against Baylor was that the Tigers were able to keep that from happening, limiting Sin to only using 12% of the Gamecocks' possessions.
That left others to pick up the slack, and with a few exceptions (Ringer, Chatkevicius, Carrera, and Henry), too many folks didn't do so. Brenton Williams only had five shots and didn't make a basket - as someone we rely on for scoring, his inability to score or create scoring chances (using only 9% of possessions) shifted pressure onto others. Again, credit Clemson for taking away one of our primary offensive threats - defensively, they're an excellent basketball team.
Tyrone Johnson had a tough outing as well - while he didn't score effectively against Baylor either, his drop off from eight assists in that game to just two versus the Tigers boded poorly for the Gamecocks' chances (though his teammates missed a few chances that would've upped his assist tally). And quietly, Duane Notice had a miserable afternoon. In 20 minutes, he turned the ball over four times and went 1-7 shooting, using up 26% of the possessions in that time and only contributing to the bottom line once in those used possessions. In the first three outings (as well as the exhibition), he's turned the ball over far too often to be relied upon for as many minutes as we did on this evening. Without Tyrone Johnson, this team would be in very bad shape because of the point guard play.
The Tigers only got major contributions from three players offensively, but they were the only three players they needed - K.J. McDaniels (21 points, 10 rebounds, 7 blocks), Rod Hall (14 points, 4 assists) and Jordan Roper (15 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists) led the way. But they didn't need many others, and though the Gamecock defense tightened considerably at points in the second half, giving up 47% on 2PAs coupled with 21 personal fouls is not a good defensive effort against a pretty average Clemson offense.
Overall, South Carolina isn't as bad as some people will feel they are after this game, just as they weren't as good as some folks thought they were after nearly beating Baylor (in that game the free throw percentage defense was what saved the Gamecocks; in this game, it's what sunk them). The Gamecocks take a week off before their next game, a home contest against FIU, whose 4-2 record is boosted by two wins over non-Division I opponents. Tip-off is at 1pm and the game can be seen on SportsSouth.