Frank Martin said he entered last night's win over Cornell "on edge" after his team's loss to Baylor. Martin was again unhappy Thursday night, despite a solid performance, point-differential wise, by South Carolina vs. Cornell. UNC-Charlotte beat a good Penn State team in double-overtime the same night. Players and coaches of Charlotte were anticipating a possible lack of energy after basically an extra half of play the night before and it appeared early on in their semifinal game vs. South Carolina.
For much of the first half, the Gamecocks were controlling the 49ers. Their intense pressure on defense caused UNCC to commit five early turnovers before committing 11 by the end of the first period. South Carolina also gave UNCC's two best players fits for much of the first half. Florida transfer Braxton Ogbueze and senior Pierria Henry, who are All-Conference caliber guards, combined for just eight points and one made field goal. Sindarius Thornwell got hot early as he did the night before vs. Cornell. Thornwell ended the half with 18 points and at one point you could have called the game score: Charlotte 16, Sindarius Thornwell 16. Eight minutes into the game, the Gamecocks were shooting 73% from the field and up 14, even though leading scorer Ty Johnson was on the bench with zero points. South Carolina was fantastic for much of the half but they eventually got too relaxed and too comfortable on offense. Foul trouble caused Johnson and freshman Marcus Stroman to watch more of the first half than they would have liked. Ball-handling duties fell to Thornwell, much like last year, and the Gamecocks' offensive production ceased. They became too careless with the ball, turning it over often and becoming careless with their shot selection, often putting it up early on in the shot clock. South Carolina made just one field goal in the last 5:34 of the first half. Despite finishing the first half shooting just 35% from the field with 11 turnovers, UNC-Charlotte found themselves down by only 7 entering the half. The buzzer rang after a Ty Johnson turnover which caused a scene featuring Frank Martin screaming at his team as they walked off the court into the locker room.
The Gamecocks lackluster performance finishing the first half carried on into the second period of play. Down seven at the start of the half, UNCC tied the ball-game just three minutes into the second half. Willie Clayton pounded South Carolina inside early after Charlotte guards were getting easy penetration and finding Clayton on well-timed cuts. After a fantastic first half, Thornwell started out ice cold, not having anything fall for him. It clearly effected his defense and often when he's not scoring, South Carolina's offense tends to be pitiful. For a second time this week, an opponent's zone defense was causing South Carolina to settle for long jump shots. They often dribbled late into the shot clock, a scenario that often ended in a forced and poor shot, or a turnover. The lack of aggressiveness on either end of the floor caused the Gamecocks to fall behind the 49ers. Then a lineup of Stroman, Duane Notice, Brian Steele, Mindaugas Kacinas, and Laimonas Chatkevicius led a 9-0 South Carolina run in a two-minute span to give the Gamecocks a two point lead with six minutes to play. A back-and-forth sequence ensued between the two teams, a time that featured a phenomanl effort by UNCC's Braxton Ogbueze. He didn't hit a field goal in the first half but finished the game with 14 points, going 3-of-5 from 3-point land. South Carolina had a crucial inbounds play coming out of a timeout with 2:12 left, down by 2. Frank Martin put it in the hands of freshman Marcus Stroman. A high ball-screen helped Stroman penetrate into the lane and he put up a missed layup but Thornwell was there to capture the rebound and put it back up to tie the game at 63. After a pair of free throws for UNCC, the Gamecocks were then down two with about a minute left. A Laimonas Chatkevicius turnover then gave the 49ers the ball back with 49 seconds to play. The Gamecocks defense forced UNCC into a shot clock violation with just 14 seconds left on the clock. Martin then called a timeout to gather his troops and draw up a final play. Alan Major, in his 5th year as head coach at UNCC, called a timeout after seeing how the Gamecocks lined up. Kacinas nearly threw the ball away on the inbounds pass but a 49er knocked it out of bounds. On the second attempt, Kacinas again struggled to get the ball in play and as he tried to call a timeout, he was called for a 5-second violation. After an intentional foul, with South Carolina down 65-63 and 14 seconds left, UNCC missed both free throws and the second miss went out of bounds. Marcus Stroman was tied up on his drive with 2.7 seconds left, causing a jump ball. South Carolina then had inbounds play underneath the basket. The pass went to Thornwell who put up a 3-pointer for the win but it banged off the back rim, giving UNC-Charlotte the 65-63 win over South Carolina.
For the second time this week the Gamecocks found themselves in a dogfight with a quality opponent. Early on South Carolina looked poised to own this game from start to finish. A reluctant offense in the final minutes of the first half carried over to the second half, adding a defense that seemed to lose the ability to move its feet. UNCC maintained a lead for much of the second period before South Carolina took a late lead. South Carolina's leading scorer, senior Ty Johnson, was on the bench for much of the second half. The ESPNU broadcast chalked Johnson's absence to him often not "seeing eye-to-eye with Frank Martin," as well as his defense. With the freshman Marcus Stroman in his place, the Gamecocks suffered another late, disappointing loss. South Carolina will now face Akron, who got their doors blown off by Miami earlier today, in the 3rd place game on Sunday in the Charleston Classic.