Well, I didn't see that one coming.
South Carolina overwhelmed Oklahoma State on the defensive end of the court, and that defensive pressure, combined with a satisfactory offensive game, left Carolina as 26-point winners on Saturday afternoon against one of the better teams in the Big XII. While it's certainly not as big a win as the victory over Kentucky last season (given the Wildcats finished the season as national runners-up), given its occurrence in the early portion of a season where the Gamecocks could make a run at post-season basketball, it's likely the most important victory of Frank Martin's tenure thus far in Columbia.
Let's look at the carnage.
|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|
This game came down to shooting. South Carolina got inside and scored in ways the Cowboys couldn't - the Gamecocks were 9-14 on shots at the rim, while the Cowboys struggled to a 4-12 output. Each team put up 29 two-point jumpers, but Carolina made 11 to Oklahoma State's seven makes.
Some of the difference came from the Gamecocks accumulating eight blocks, but the Cowboys tallied five themselves, so ultimately the biggest difference came from Carolina simply making shots difficult on one end, and simply making shots on the other. Coupled with Carolina's solid 35% night from three-point range (6-17) against a woeful 21% effort by the Cowboys (5-24), and only failing in every other aspect of the game was going to lead to a Gamecock loss.
They held up fine. Carolina won the turnover battle by one, won the offensive rebounding battle (Oklahoma State had five more rebounds on that end, but when you miss as many shots as the Cowboys missed, you get extra opportunities), and took three additional free throws on the evening, making five more than Oklahoma State put in the basket. If you win the big battle - shooting - by as much as the Gamecocks did, you don't need to dominate anywhere else.
South Carolina completely shut down Oklahoma State's two best scorers - Phil Forte and Le'Bryan Nash - on Saturday, holding them to 18 points on 29 field goal attempts. That's basically impossible to come back from, and as you can see, no one else on Oklahoma State was able to contribute more than eight points. Complete credit to Tyrone Johnson and Sindarius Thornwell, who spent most of the afternoon in the pockets of these two guys. The dominant defensive performance meant that just a decent offensive output would lead the Gamecocks to an easy victory.
They got that output. Aside from another disappointing offensive effort from Demetrius Henry (who, to his credit, at least contributed two blocks), the main eight Gamecocks all played well. The star was Duane Notice, who put together his second consecutive 20-point outing on 7-13 shooting. That helped take the pressure off of Thornwell and Johnson, who both scored 13 points while taking nine field goal attempts, with Thornwell relying on free throws (7-9) while Johnson got his from inside (5-6 from two-point range).
Laimonas Chatkevicius and Mindaugas Kacinas each had nice outings, with Kacinas firing up seven field goal attempts, a big step up from his two attempts in 32 minutes against Marshall. Marcus Stroman continued to show us he's an otherworldly passer at times (five assists against two turnovers), but also found more attempts on the evening, going 2-6 from the field for four points. And Justin McKie continues to contribute as his minutes increase, although his ball-handling is one of the oddest things going for the Gamecocks right now - in 72 minutes, he has two assists and one turnover. Obviously that's a fine ratio, but it'd be nice to see McKie do a little more with the ball on the offensive end.
That's a quibble, and one perhaps best left for another day. Right now, the Gamecocks are flying high into their exam break, and all of a sudden the idea of putting together the kind of season that merits post-season basketball is becoming more and more likely, particularly with the soft underbelly of the SEC exposing itself this week, particularly in the form of Arkansas' inexplicable loss at Clemson.
Speaking of the Tigers - they're the next team up for the Gamecocks, as Carolina looks to both avenge its loss on the football field as well as snap a two-game losing streak to their little brother from the upstate on the hardwood. If the Gamecocks play as well next Saturday as they did last Saturday, there's little doubt they'll emerge the winner.