South Carolina recorded their biggest win of the Frank Martin era on Saturday, defeating Iowa State 64-60 in Brooklyn. The win places the Gamecocks squarely in the running for an NCAA Tournament bid, an opportunity considered possible, if unlikely, before the season started.
As they have since December, the Gamecocks relied primarily on their outstanding defense to shut down the impressive Iowa State offense. How did they do it? Let's take a look.
|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|
Three Thoughts on the Team Statistics
1. Three-point and free-throw shooting made all the difference. Iowa State shot 6% from three-point range and 58% from the line on Saturday. Put them at their seasonal averages - 34% and 72% respectively - and they're scoring 80 points on Saturday (obviously, a few made threes equal a few fewer offensive rebounds, but let's just go with this for illustrative purposes).
There's really no good argument that we defended the free throw line better than the average team on Saturday, and there's a ton of research that suggests that our defense didn't really impact how many 3s went down for the Cyclones. Now obviously Carolina didn't shoot well from either of these areas as well, but they didn't rely on free throws and 3s as much as Iowa State did, and they didn't shoot as poorly as the Cyclones shot.
2. Too many turnovers, but the offense worked otherwise. It's genuinely surprising to see that the Gamecocks were able to score 1.22 points per possession on possessions that didn't end in a turnover, although not shocking given that Iowa State isn't known for defensive wizardry. Still, even that number seemed like it wouldn't be enough, given the 20 turnovers that USC committed on Saturday. It hasn't been a huge problem this year, but it could've been disastrous on Saturday.
Still, despite only recording eight assists, the Gamecocks were consistently able to create and make shots. They hit over 50% of their 2s and continued possessions through offensive rebounding. It still ended in seven fewer attempts from the field and the free throw line, but that's how we get back to the above - shooting made the difference on Saturday.
3. A win is a win. That said, the shots didn't go, and we're at the point in the program's rise where that's what matters. We've finally watched the Gamecocks move from "hey, let's see improvement" to "hey, let's win some games and worry about whether we deserved to win them some other time." Because it doesn't matter if we deserved to win this game or not. We won it. That's all that matters on Selection Sunday.
Three Thoughts on the Player Statistics
1. The big three stepped up. Coming into this season, we all expected the team would rise and fall on the shoulders of Tyrone Johnson, Duane Notice, and Sindarius Thornwell. They were the three biggest producers on last year's team (before Ty's injury) and nothing suggested they wouldn't be required to lead the group. But then the season came along, and so did the role players, and this team started to put out really strong lineups no matter who stood on the floor.
On Saturday, those strong lineups continued, but due to foul problems in the post and heavy rotation otherwise, it came back to the big three, and they delivered. The trio combined for 39 of the Gamecocks' 64 points as well as seven of their eight assists, along with five steals and an incredible 21 rebounds. There were too many turnovers (a combined eight) in their total 99 minutes, but they clearly led the team, both in scoring and elsewhere. An incredible performance.
2. On a night where the post players struggled, Demetrius Henry showed up. It's not surprising when a Frank Martin-coached team finds itself in foul trouble, but the Gamecocks have improved in that area this year, and Iowa State doesn't play the kind of style that rolls up free throw opportunities. So it was a bummer to see how limited Mindaugas Kacinas and Laimonas Chatkevicius were on Saturday, given they combined for 10 fouls in only 27 minutes.
With only Michael Carrera, and at times Thornwell and Shamiek Sheppard, available to fill the post otherwise, it fell to Demetrius Henry to hold down the fort and defend the net. He also fouled out, but he at least made it 27 minutes before doing so, and added 7 points to go with five rebounds. While he didn't record a single block, his simple ability to stay on the court was critical for Carolina to avoid finding itself without anyone over 6'6" on the floor.
No one in the post had a very good night, but Henry's ability to simply stay out there and help the Gamecocks figure it out played a huge role in the win.
3. Welcome back, Michael Carrera. Given those foul issues, Michael Carrera found the court for 15 minutes on Saturday afternoon, and he impacted the game as much as he could in that stretch. He put together an old-fashioned three-point play to accrue his three points, but also added a block and a steal (and, in true Carrera fashion, three personal fouls) on defense.
Still, it was these types of contributions that you saw throughout the rest of the Gamecock lineup on Saturday. None of the other six players (aside from those listed above) played very good games, but they all played good enough to keep the Gamecocks just ahead of the Cyclones, and as this team has done all year, they locked down defensively to give themselves a chance to win.
SEC play starts Wednesday, and for the first time in over a decade, the Gamecocks have put together a non-conference resume that they can use to impress the committee. Sure the losses in Charleston weren't the best of losses, but wins over Oklahoma State and Iowa State are going to resonate down the line. It'd have been better if they could've put one more nice victory onto their total, but it's still the type of resume that gets you considered, if you can get your work done in conference play.
That task begins on Wednesday, when a wounded Florida Gators team comes to Columbia. We'll talk about them more later this week. For now, let's spend one more day reveling in a terrific, terrific win.