The Gamecocks landed in Stillwater fresh off a twelve-day break with a chance to test themselves against one of the best teams in the country, in one of the most intimidating environments in all of college basketball.
Instead, the ice on the ground (and the anticipation of the Bedlam game) kept many people away from the arena, and Carolina's carelessness with the basketball doomed them to being nothing more than a walk-through for an excellent Oklahoma State basketball team, as the Gamecocks lost 79-52, falling to 2-3 on the year.
It's an easy story to tell. South Carolina couldn't hold onto the basketball in the first half, and couldn't really do anything to stop Oklahoma State after they gave it away. While a better second half gave reasons for optimism (the Cowboys outscored Carolina 40-37 in the second session), it's not a stretch to say that Oklahoma State was completely disinterested by the last ten minutes, which left the Gamecocks in some ways slightly flattered by the final scoreline.
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The story of the game is clear - turnovers and shooting (these are very large parts of basketball). The Gamecocks simply could not stop turning the ball over - 24 on the evening - and you can't score when you don't have the basketball. About halfway through the first half, Carolina had turned the ball over on 65 percent of their possessions. It's not hard to look good against something like that.
Credit to Oklahoma State - they weren't all unforced errors. The Cowboys stole the ball from Carolina ten times, and turned those into easy baskets on the other end.
The optimism stems from that last set of numbers - when Carolina got the ball and got shots off, they were scoring 1.229 points per possession. Of course, you're going to turn the ball over in basketball, but had the Gamecocks posted even a 20 percent rate (still above the national average), they would've scored about a point per possession. So it's a problem that can be focused on and addressed, and I don't think this team has an inherent inability to not turn over the basketball. Oklahoma State simply has the ability to make anyone look terrible on any given night (ask the Memphis team they embarrassed by 21 points - while jumping out to a 50-32 lead at the half - just last month).
The Gamecocks were also able to stay aggressive both on the offensive glass and by getting to the line, posting an excellent offensive rebounding rate of almost 45 percent and an FTR of 48.9 percent. Those numbers were the best and second-best respectively anyone has put up against State this year. Again, you have to get the big things right, but it's good to know this team has some underlying strengths and capabilities.
Defensively, Carolina struggled majorly to prevent State from getting to the paint and scoring inside, with Oklahoma State outshooting them 59-29 percent on the interior. South Carolina hit five of nine threes to keep the shooting margin respectable on the whole, but it was a very disappointing offensive performance, and the defense continues to look incapable of stopping teams inside without fouling (that 57.1% FTR from Oklahoma State could've been worse had the referees not swallowed their whistles the last ten minutes).
Also defensively, you can tell why Frank Martin is loathe to play zone. Oklahoma State doesn't truly prize the offensive glass (they grab on average 33.1% of their own misses), but last night posted a 39 percent rate, including a few thunderous putbacks where there was simply no one blocking out the rebounder. That's much more common when you put up a zone as opposed to a man defense, and it bit the Gamecocks a few times last night.
We didn't get run over by Marcus Smart, but State didn't need him. Aside from Brian Williams - and to some extent, Stevie Clark - the entire offense for Oklahoma State couldn't miss shots from inside and got to the foul line a ton. If you're spending the game giving them extra possessions, which with eleven extra field goals and eight more free throw attempts, State clearly had, you can't win.
For the Gamecocks, Michael Carrera had his worst night in a Carolina uniform, scoring one point on four missed field goals while turning the ball over six times. He's looked lost offensively for large parts of the season, and if we're not going to be able to play interior defense anyway, it may make sense to move him back into the post on offense, where he can at least contribute offensive rebounds (though he still managed to grab three last night).
On the other hand, one guy who really came to play last night offensively was Ty Johnson, who only turned the ball over twice as a point guard in 29 minutes while getting into the lane and adding points as well. He looked capable of playing with a team like Oklahoma State last night. But he needs to bring his teammates along with him.
And Jaylen Shaw - whatever you did to antagonize Frank Martin this week, please stop, because we could sure use you out on the court. Shaw buried three of his four 3PAs and added a breakaway dunk and a couple of free throws to lead the team in scoring with 13 points. He also doled out three assists against no turnovers. Frankly, I'm still shocked at just how good he looks given just how bad he looked against USC-Aiken, but he's been mighty effective in the last two games for South Carolina. He won't keep hitting 58.3% of his 3PAs, but if he can keep that number in the mid- to high-30s along with his assists-to-turnovers ratio (currently 10:3), he'll be a contributor on this team and the teams to come.
Overall, it's a pretty disappointing loss, but it shouldn't be too disheartening. Oklahoma State's good, y'all. This time a year ago, South Carolina walked into St. John's and got steamrolled like this. The difference is that St. John's was a pretty average basketball team last year. Oklahoma State may win the national championship. There's no pride to be found in getting blitzed by them, but there's certainly no shame in it. All the goals anyone had for this team coming into the season are still out there to be achieved, despite the poor performance.
The Gamecocks will take another extended break from action, as dictated by Martin's strategy to play as few games as possible before Ty Johnson returned from what was thought to be an eligibility issue that would keep him sidelined until December 16th (to be clear, the eligibility had to done with his transfer and an exhibition game appearance, nothing untoward).
The Gamecocks beat the Jaspers in the Barclays Center last season, and will look to match that performance this year when they welcome Manhattan to the Colonial Life Arena on December 17. Thus far, Manhattan is out to a 5-2 start with a number of good (if not great) wins under their belt, and their experienced bunch should pose a formidable test for our young team.