The Gamecocks finished out the Diamond Head Classic with a bang, beating Akron 69-59. The Gamecocks rode a strong second half to erase a six-point halftime deficit. The win brings the Gamecocks to 4-6 on the season. They went 2-1 in the tourney, beating St. Mary's and Akron and losing to Boise St. That was good for a third-place finish.
It's not exactly clear how good St. Mary's and Akron are, but considering how much Carolina was struggling prior to the trip to Honolulu, you have to be happy with the results we got. Saint Mary's looked very strong coming into the tournament but lost all three of its games in Hawaii. The Gaels remain a top 60 team according to Ken Pomeroy, though, so they're nothing to scoff at. Akron sits at 6-4 after the tournament, but the Zips are a well-coached team and have been strong in recent years themselves. Neither should be considered a pushover, and for the Gamecocks, all wins over non-Longwood-ish teams are positive right now. As for the team we lost to, Boise is likely an NCAA Tournament team that took an excellent Iowa St. team to the wire last night. We played poorly against the Broncos and predictably lost big.
As for the game last night, there were definitely some positive takeaways, as you would expect. The Gamecocks played a fairly disciplined game on defense while remaining aggressive enough to force 16 turnovers, several of which led directly to baskets. If we can play with intensity on a regular basis, I think we can continue to get the results we got last night. The biggest complaint on defense for the game was poor defensive rebounding. Akron scored several baskets off the offensive glass, and even when they didn't get the offensive board, it seemed like a ton of their missed shots ended up as loose balls on the perimeter. As I've said before, I'd like to see Laimonas Chatkevicius or even Desmond Ringer (I was impressed by Ringer's effort last night) get more minutes than Mindaugas Kacinas, as Chat and Ringer do a better job of boxing out and closing out defensive rebounds. Michael Carrera, who looked good playing some minutes in the post last night, is also a step up over Kacinas on the defensive glass.
Offensively, the story of the night was Duane Notice, who closed out a solid tournament with a 15-point effort. Notice showed a really impressive ability to get to the rim and finish in traffic. He has a somewhat larger frame for a two-guard and was able to use it to muscle his way into good shots around the rim. After seeing Notice and Brenton Williams play extremely well in Hawaii, Frank Martin needs to think hard about how to balance minutes between Notice, Williams, and Bruce Ellington when Ellington returns to the team. Ellington can be a major contributor to this team when he returns, but it's not clear that he's significantly better than the other options, particularly until he's had time to reacclimate to hoops.
One thing that has to be mentioned was how much better Carolina was from the foul stripe than Akron. The Zips aren't a good free-throw shooting team, and it showed last night. The Gamecocks need to continue to work on fouling less, as they can't rely on all teams to shoot so poorly on free throws.
In a weird scheduling quirk, the Gamecocks will host the Zips for a second game between the two squads this weekend. Considering the close nature of the first contest, it should be another tight game. If the Gamecocks can beat Akron again and then win over mediocre Marshall and S.C. State teams, we can head into conference play with a 7-6 record, which would give us a marginal chance at a winning record should we split our SEC slate. These next few games are very important, so hopefully we'll continue to improve.
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