While South Carolina reached the finals of the Charleston Classic five years ago, they are playing for 3rd place in 2014. Their opponent, the Akron Zips, got their doors blown off by Angel Rodriquez and Miami on Friday night. The Zips and the Gamecocks also played twice in a four day period last season, both South Carolina victories.
The Gamecocks found themselves down by eight very early on in the game. Poor post defense by Demetrius Henry and Co. led Frank Martin to push Laimonas Chatkevicius off the bench and into action. Poor shooting plagued both teams in the first half but it was worse for Martin's team, who shot less than 30% from the floor. Sindarius Thornwell, Tyrone Johnson, and Michael Carrera finished the first period a combined 1-of-13 from the floor for six points. Freshman Marcus Stroman led the Gamecocks in scoring at half with six points while Thornwell, Chatkevicius, Mindaugas Kacinas, and Duane Notice contributed four each. In USC's two games vs. Akron last season, winning the rebounding margin propelled them to those wins and that kept them in it today. Despite the dreadful shooting performance from South Carolina, they held a 25-12 rebounding advantage at the half. Akron was without their best player, forward Demetrius Treadwell, a 1st Team All-MAC preseason selection, because of suspension due to an assault accusation. Deji Ibitayo came off the bench to lead the Zips with 11 points while Treadwell's replacement Kwan Cheatham Jr. contributed six, helping Akron enter the half with a 30-25 halftime lead.
For the second time in Charleston, the Gamecocks came out flat in the second half. Akron quickly increased their five point lead to a 12-pointer less than five minutes into the second period of play. After a timeout, South Carolina came out as the aggressor for the first time tonight, going on a 7-0 run in a 1:12 span. The increased aggression and pressure on D forced the Zips into turnovers, giving South Carolina easier possessions in broken situations. The Gamecocks even tied the game at 55 with 6:55 to go, their first tie since the two teams were knotted at two in the game's early moments. However in the last seven minutes, South Carolina made just three field goals and one free throw. Luckily Akron wasn't much better from the field in the waning moments, only making a pair of field goals but a handful of free throws. With 41.6 seconds left, South Carolina came out of a Frank Martin timeout with the ball, down by five. South Carolina hadn't scored in the last 3:46 but Sindarius Thornwell took the ball to the hoop and made a tough shot to cut Akron's lead to three with 32.2 seconds left. Thornwell again made a big play, using pressure to force Akron to throw the ball away on the inbounds pass. Still down three with 32.2 seconds left, Duane Notice fell when dribbling and turned the ball over. After 3-of-4 makes at the free throw line, South Carolina was down by six with eight seconds left but then Thornwell came down the floor and hit a deep three to trim the lead to just a triple. Akron then iced the game with consecutive trips to the free throw line, giving them a 68-63 win over South Carolina.
In USC's three losses so far this season they won the rebounding margin in each contest but shot below 25% on triples in each game. Easy penetration by opposing guards again caused South Carolina's defense to struggle on key possessions. In the last two games South Carolina's two best players, Sindarius Thornwell and Tyrone Johnson, combined to shoot 14-of-49 from the field. The schedule will hopefully give Frank Martin and his team enough time to get things straight. The Gamecocks have two days off before they play five of their next six games in Colonial Life Arena. South Carolina tips off next on Tuesday night against UNC-Asheville at 8:00pm, hoping to to break their first losing streak of the season.