South Carolina made quick work of the Benedict Tigers on Sunday afternoon at the Colonial Life Arena, winning a 92-47 contest in front of an estimated 10,000 fans watching the first-ever match-up between the two Columbia schools. The Gamecocks win came in their only exhibition game of the season, as they prepare to tip-off the season for real on Friday, November 14 at home against North Florida.
|Advanced Box Score|
|PPP = Points per poss.|
|Non-TO = PPP on non-turnover poss.|
|eFG = (2PM+(1.5*3PM))/FGA|
|FTR = FTA/FGA|
|3PA% = 3PA/FGA|
You can never learn a ton from exhibitions, but after struggling to win their last two exhibition contests under Frank Martin - a 12-point win over USC-Aiken in 2013 and a one-point win over Kentucky Wesleyan the year prior - it was a welcome sight to see the Gamecocks easily dispatch their over-matched opponents.
Critically, Carolina showed an ability to dominate in the paint. It's no surprise that the Gamecocks handled Benedict in rebounding on both sides of the court, but unlike many contests in the past, South Carolina also dominated the paint when it came to shooting.
On offense, Carolina hit 55% of their twos and spent a significant portion of the evening at the foul line, posting a 44% free throw rate (a pace-adjusted measure of how frequently teams get to the line). On defense, South Carolina prevented Benedict from taking 2s - they took almost half of their field goals from beyond the arc. And when the Tigers did take 2s, the Carolina defense stymied them, holding the Tigers to a 21% field goal rate from the interior, helped in large part by the Gamecocks blocking nine of their 39 two-point attempts (a massive 23% block percentage).
While allowing as many threes as Carolina did means the game could've been considerably closer if Benedict had found their range from beyond the arc, the interior defensive performance is one of the best produced under Martin. If it continues, it augurs well for the Gamecocks.
Abnormally for an exhibition contest, South Carolina only played nine players on Sunday, as Justin McKie and Brian Steele sat out with minor injuries, while the Gamecocks also announced that TeMarcus Blanton and Austin Constable will miss the season thanks to hip and ACL injuries respectively.
As the only freshman left from the 2014 class that will play this season, all eyes focused on Marcus Stroman's debut as a Gamecock on Sunday. He struggled considerably at times, turning the ball over seven times in just 20 minutes of action, but doled out three assists and at times showed the athleticism that made him such a highly touted prospect.
The game also marked Tyrone Johnson's return from his foot injury last season, and he sparkled, scoring 23 points and adding six assists against just one turnover in a stellar performance. In fact, the primary seven players - Johnson, along with Duane Notice, Sindarius Thornwell, Mindaugas Kacinas, Laimonas Chatkevicius, Michael Carrera, and Demetrius Henry - all looked like SEC-caliber players against Benedict, with five scoring in double-digits against the Tigers. Reggie Theus Jr. made up the ninth player for the Gamecocks, and he struggled in his time on the floor, with two points and three turnovers in 16 minutes.
With all the absences of other players, and the struggles of Theus and Stroman in this game, there is space for Justin McKie and Brian Steele to return from their injuries and play significant minutes on this team. If they can come in and fill those roles capably, the Gamecocks will be a very tough out for just about every team on their schedule. If they can't, they'll still roll out a seven-man rotation that can rival most anyone in the SEC.
It's just an exhibition game, but for the first 40 minutes of the 2014-15 season, South Carolina looked every bit as good as watchers hoped they could this year.