Frank Martin's pack of chickens has been down a few friends over the last few weeks. The undermanned pack wasn't as effective and had South Carolina on a two-game losing streak. Shortly before tipoff, it seemed as if this squad was going to be back to full strength. Shamiek Sheppard caught viewers eyes while participating in warmups after missing two games with a knee injury. However, it was then spread that sophomore guard Justin McKie would miss his fifth consecutive game with a concussion and in a surprising turn of events, freshman point guard Marcus Stroman would miss tonight's game due to an illness.
Sindarius Thornwell, Tyrone Johnson, Duane Notice, Demetrius Henry, and Michael Carrera started tonight's game in front of a crowd that will be no bigger than the crowd at Pavlovs this weekend.
That didn't stop the starters from getting off to a quick start, an achievement that should be an important goal each game for this team. The Gamecocks stormed to a 12-2 lead, forcing turnovers and hitting the offensive rebounds after Vanderbilt kept them to a season-low three second-chance opportunities this past weekend.
Missouri entered Colonial Life Arena tonight without a full bench as well. The Tigers suspended freshman guards Montague Gil-Caesar and Namon Wright for a violation of team rules. They didn't get down despite the horrid start. They channeled a 10-2 run of their own to reduce their early deficit to just two.
The first half remained in that same evened area after several back-and-forth sequences that saw the halftime score tied at 30. Missouri often played man-to-man defense at first and then eventually switched to zone, a defense that worked much better against South Carolina. No team should ever, ever, ever get out of a zone against the Gamecocks. Their shooting is that bad.
After going for 15 points this past weekend in a loss at Texas A&M, Tigers guard Wes Clark went for 11 in the first half. Less than four minutes into the second half, Clark dove for a loose ball and appeared to dislocate his elbow according to the game's broadcast. With Clark's injury, Missouri now had two guards suspended, one lost to injury, and one, Deuce Bellow, with three fouls, and he ended up fouling out. For the last 12-13 minutes, Missouri was down to seven scholarship players.
It didn't show much except for a brief period after Clark got hurt. South Carolina, up three at the time of the injury, pushed their lead to double-digits after a few fast break points and a pair of Brian Steele 3-pointers. Up 52-42 with 8:42 left, the Gamecocks seemed in control and easily on their way to their third conference win. South Carolina then turned the ball over three consecutive possessions and let Missouri back into the game. The Gamecocks went back on the court after the last media timeout with 3:21 left and a 54-49 lead.
The most impressive stretch of South Carolina basketball in the last week then ensued. Missouri made a pair of baskets, highlighted by a thunderous dunk. The Gamecocks came right down the floor each time and answered right back. Thornwell hit a big three after the dunk and Chat drilled a jumper following a Tiger jumper.
After that it got to free throw time, a strength for this team, and South Carolina put the game away. A late and-1 three made the final score closer than it looked but the 65-60 home win gave South Carolina its third SEC win of the season and Missouri's 10th consecutive loss.
Thornwell, who played backup point guard along with his wing duties, put together arguably his best all-round performance of the season statistically. The sophomore tallied a game-high 14 points to go along with six assists, five rebounds, two steals, a block, and in extra ballhandling duties, he only committed one turnover. Laimonas Chatkevicius had a near double-double off the bench with 13 points and eight rebounds. In the Debbie Downer department, Ty and Notice combined for 15 points on 4-of-21 shooting and all nine of Notice's points came on three 3-pointers in the first half. Brian Steele tied his career high with eight points.
Missouri's outside shooting is the only reason they were remotely in the game. USC finished shooting 36.5 percent from the field, while Missouri shot 42.3 percent. The difference came from behind the arc. The Gamecocks shot 28 percent, 7-of-25 from 3-point land, while the Tigers shot an incredible 50 percent, hitting as many 3-pointers as USC, just on 14 attempts.
One must question how this game would have ended if Wes Clark had not gotten hurt. His 11 points, all in the first half, ended up being the second most on the team tonight and just two away from being tied for the team-high.
I guess there's no sense in worrying about that now, it will always be a what-if during Missouri's horrid season.
Gamecock fans should continue worry about their teams health. They'll need McKie and Stroman to be healthy and ready to go by the weekend because they travel to Rupp Arena on Saturday to take on No. 1 Kentucky. The Wildcats may be one of the deepest teams in the modern era of college basketball so South Carolina will need all the bodies they can to throw at Calipari's MonStars.