The Oklahoma State Cowboys enter Colonial Life Area Saturday afternoon awaiting their first true road game of the season. South Carolina conqured their first road test Monday night when they traveled to Huntington, WV and came away with a 77-59 win over Marshall.
South Carolina and Oklahoma State have only played each other twice before. Once was in the SEC-Big 12 Challenge last season, a 79-52 Oklahoma State romp, with the other being a 70-61 South Carolina win in Columbia in 1975.
The Gamecocks have an incredible opportunity in front of them. They haven't captured a major non-conference win since 2009, beating Baylor on the road. They are coming off four days rest and an outstanding performance against Marshall. That performance was led by Duane Notice and his career-high 27 points. "I told him on one of the last timeouts I probably coach him harder than anyone on our team," head coach Frank Martin said, "and he continues to step up to the challenges." Laimonas Chatkevicius added a second consecutive productive performance, tallying 15 points. On the wing, South Carolina found contributors in sophomores Justin McKie (12 points) and Sindarius Thornwell (10 points, 10 rebounds). The Gamecocks achieved their largest margin of victory on the road since their 26-point win in 2008 against Princeton. Notice, Chatkevicus, and McKie led the way offensively, shooting 22-of-35 from the floor, while their teammates shot 8-of-28.
If South Carolina wants to upset Oklahoma State the trio of Johnson-Thornwell-Notice has to play up to preseason expectations. It's been tough to keep the musketeers on the court together for very long so far this year. As my man ChickenHoops pointed out in his incredibly in-depth statistical preview, the trio has only played together about 20% of the time during the last five games. Not only does South Carolina need the three to get going to beat Oklahoma State, they need them to get going if they want to accomplish their long-term goals. This team will undoubtedly struggle if it has to keep depending on guys like Chatkevicius. I don't mean to disrespect the big man, he's produced lately, but Johnson-Thornwell-Notice is a special group and they need to start playing like it.
Oklahoma State waltzes into Columbia tomorrow afternoon with an undefeated record (7-0) while receiving votes in the Associated Press poll and USA Today Coaches Poll. The Cowboys are fresh off an 87-61 win over North Texas and have won their seven games this season by an average margin of 23.4 points per game. Oklahoma State head coach Travis Ford has done it with a variety of personnel as well. He's had five different starting lineups in seven games and his team features 11 players averaging 12 or more minutes a game. While South Carolina has Johnson-Thornwell-Notice, the Cowboys bring their own trio to town. Junior forward Le'Bryan Nash, junior guard Phil Forte, and senior transfer Anthony Hickey Jr. lead the way for Oklahoma State. Nash missed the North Texas game due to suspension, a minor disciplinary issue according to his teammates. In the six games he has played in this season, the 6-7 junior scored in double-figures each night. Nash is the team's leading rebounder and he was the Cowboys leading scorer before Forte went off against North Texas. Forte had 20 before halftime and finished with a career-high 32 points Wednesday night. Dating back to last season, Forte has scored in double figures in 12 straight games, 16 of his last 17, and has made at least one three-pointer in 12 straight games. This season he's shooting 38% from behind the arc, and as ChickenHoops noted in his piece, Forte receives many of his shots from Anthony Hickey Jr. Hickey is senior point guard who transferred from LSU prior to this season and was actually heavily recruited by South Carolina coming out of high school. Hickey leads the Cowboys in assists, contributes a modest 8.4 points per game, and rarely, if ever, turns the ball over.
If Oklahoma State wins Saturday afternoon, they will improve to 8-0 and it will be the best start to a season for a Travis Ford-coached Cowboys team. They will also improve the Big 12's record to 20-9 over the SEC since the start of the 2012-13 season. South Carolina looks to stop both marks and they'll be led by Tyrone Johnson, Sindarius Thornwell, and Duane Notice - hopefully.