Playing its seventh game in fourteen days, no one would fault the Gamecocks for coming out a tired team on Monday night. Against a team like Marshall, which plays at the 12th fastest adjusted pace in the nation (according to Ken Pomeroy), that could have led to a night where tired legs gave way to another disappointing home loss.
Instead, for the third time in the last five games, the Gamecocks scored over 1.20 points per possession, shooting 50 percent or better from 2, 3, and the free throw line. On the other end, Carolina kept Marshall into a half-court offensive set, and the Herd could simply not take advantage of the opportunities provided it by the Carolina defense from either beyond the arc (where they shot 1-14) or at the free throw line (where they shot 30-46).
South Carolina also squeezed out an extra 19 shots from the field thanks to a 16-11 advantage in turnovers along with a 19-9 edge in offensive rebounding. With the exception of an inability to keep Marshall off the foul line, the Gamecocks outplayed the Herd in all phases, and walked out deserved winners.
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While Carolina outplayed Marshall in every area but one, that one area defined the game. The teams combined for 58 personal fouls, which led to four disqualified players (Demetrius Henry and Brian Steele for the Gamecocks, and Ryan Taylor and Chris Thomas for Marshall). Foul trouble kept a number of Gamecocks off the floor for long stretches, including Sindarius Thornwell, who only managed to play nine minutes thanks to two early fouls in the first half and another early in the second half.
His teammates ably filled the void, and by the time his foul trouble warranted his re-insertion into the line-up, the game was so far out of reach the Gamecocks didn't need him.
Henry and Brenton Williams made the most of their time on the court, with Henry scoring 12 points in only 14 minutes while Williams added 18 points in just 20 minutes, paced by a 7-11 effort from the field. Brenton also celebrated breaking a long-standing South Carolina record, as he made his 42nd consecutive free throw, eclipsing the great John Roche's previous record of 41 in a row.
Michael Carrera continued his resurgence by contributing 22 energetic minutes, compiling 8 points, five rebounds (two offensive) and four blocks on the defensive end. Duane Notice got yet another start over Tyrone Johnson, and in his 31 minutes scored 13 points on 4-8 shooting, while adding six rebounds and six assists. He also continued to limit his turnovers, only losing the ball twice in extended minutes with the ball in his hand.
Johnson saw plenty of the court himself, especially with Williams' early foul trouble, and tied Williams for the team lead with 18 points on 6-10 shooting, while also doling out three assists against zero turnovers. When he's playing well, Johnson's dribble-drive ability creates scoring opportunities for both himself and his teammates, and with Williams and Notice bringing a similar mindset to the floor in recent games, the Carolina offense looks as good as it has under Frank Martin.
Of course, the Gamecocks can certainly improve on this performance. The defensive numbers look much worse if Marshall shoots at D-I averages from outside and the line, and research suggests the defense doesn't impact shooting percentage from either of those areas (this should not surprise anyone that defense doesn't impact opponents' free throw percentage).
However, the Gamecocks turned the Herd over on over 20% of possessions and limited their offensive rebounding to just over 25% (for context, that rebounding percentage would rank 317th in the nation over the course of the season). The problem remains that Carolina struggles to defend teams without fouling, particularly teams that get the ball inside. While USC shouldn't face whistles this tight every night out, its foul struggles certainly aren't limited to just this evening's game, and as we saw in the game against Manhattan, it leaves the 'Cocks at the mercy of the opposition's free throw shooting ability, something they literally can't guard.
That caveat aside, South Carolina collected yet another big win in a game they entered as only mild (8.5 point) favorites. If they can take care of business over a weak S.C. State squad on Friday, they'll exit non-conference play with a winning record, and move onto SEC play with a realistic (though not assured) opportunity to win enough games to advance to postseason play. That'd be a big step for this program, and indicate to fans, recruits, and the program itself that it's improving markedly in the second year of the Frank Martin era.