It's an interesting point in the season right now - on the one hand, the wins don't really matter, as this team needs a miracle to get into the NCAA discussion, and would honestly need a string of luck (and likely a win in Knoxville) just to avoid playing the first day of the SEC Tournament. With the schedule as it is and the games they've already lost, it's easy to say results don't matter anymore at this point.
On the other hand, Missouri is terrible this year, and losing to them would just feel like a step back. Even if the wins don't matter for purposes of this year, there's all sorts of intangibles - not to mention recruiting - that get built up by seeing wins instead of losses, even in lost seasons.
So last night South Carolina won a basketball game. That's good in and of itself.
(Note - we've taken this entire concept from the amazing work of Rock M Nation, who also broke the game down here).
|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 shooting kept it close. Had each team 34% of their three-point shots - the national average - then the Gamecocks end up with six more points while the Tigers end up with six fewer points. That takes a 65-60 game and makes it into a 71-54 game. Obviously there were some rebounds available after those missed shots, but the general premise remains - it took a 12-point swing in three-point shooting for the Tigers to stay close to Carolina.
Now on the one hand, the Gamecocks don't really have many weapons from outside, so assuming they can hit the national average is assuming a bit too much. On the other hand, Missouri came into this match-up hitting just 32.7% of their threes on the season, so it's not like they played to their skill set. They had a hot night. Fortunately, Carolina did enough in the other parts of the game to win.
2. A ton more chances to score. South Carolina and Missouri each took 38 twos and made just about the same number (16-15, Gamecocks). But Carolina got off eleven more three-point shots, which means that even with the significant percentage disparity, each team finished with seven made three-point baskets. Coupled with doing a little bit more from the line - mostly in garbage time - Carolina was able to get away with the win.
Of course, extra opportunities come from two things - turnovers and rebounds, and the Gamecocks dominated in both categories. Five fewer turnovers and eight extra offensive rebounds meant that Carolina could survive yet another woeful shooting night. It's basically all they can do on offense - if you can't win on efficiency, win on volume. It hasn't worked often this season, but it worked last night.
3. Disappointing defense. Honestly, I expected South Carolina to overwhelm Missouri last night, particularly given that they've been missing a number of players to suspension and lost yet another last night to injury (get well soon, Wes Clark). Instead, the Gamecocks gave up 0.97 points per possession to one of the worst offenses in the SEC.
South Carolina's won games this year - at least, back in the earlier part of the year - through stifling defense. For whatever reason, that hasn't carried over to SEC play for the most part, with some exceptions. And some of it isn't their fault. In the Florida loss, the Gators hit 83% from the line, while they average 66.3% from the year, and that swung the four-point difference. In the Auburn loss, the Tigers replaced their season average of 67% from the line with a 79% average, which represents a three-point difference, the final margin. They watched Tennessee go 10-18 from three (56%) despite shooting just 35% on the year (remember, there's no such thing as 3P% defense).
So there's been some bad luck along the way that shows up in the defense's points per possession. But they've also slipped in basically every category - field goal defense, turnovers, rebounding, and fouls. That's to be expected when the competition improves, but that slip, combined with the offense's move from average to bad, has just killed this team.
Three Thoughts on the Player Statistics
1. Sindarius stepped up big. With Justin McKie and Marcus Stroman unavailable, the pressure piled onto the rest of the guards to take on big minutes and big responsibilities in their absence. Sindarius Thornwell got that done. He played 38 minutes and filled up the entire box score - 14 points, five (defensive) rebounds, six assists, two steals, a block, and just one personal foul.
That's what people were expecting night-in and night-out from Thornwell this season. It hasn't happened, but it was good to see him have a great game on a night the Gamecocks needed it.
2. Brian Steele figured out how he can contribute to this team. We've done a fair amount of carping about Brian Steele on this blog, primarily because his minutes seem to come more from frustration than anything else - when this team was winning, Steele didn't see the court. Now that it's started struggling in SEC play, Frank Martin's inserted him. It just seems odd that Steele always starts the season on the bench and then gets more playing time as the losses pile up. I'm not sure why that is, but it is, and it's odd.
That said, Steele has a skill that not many Gamecocks do - he can hit threes. He's not lights out back there - for his career, he's a rather pedestrian 34% - but rather pedestrian goes a long way for a team in desperate need of finding a way to shoot over zones and stretch defenses. Of the available guards last night, his season average of 30.8% fell behind only Duane Notice's 32.7% mark.
I'm still not sure there's much of a role for him on this team once Justin McKie returns, but until he does, Steele needs to contribute the best way he can. And that's by getting 3s in the air when the opportunity arises.
3. A quietly nice game by Tyrone Johnson. It's hurt in large part by his 1-7 (0-2 from three) shooting effort from the field, but on a night where he needed to take up a lot of minutes, Johnson put in 28 minutes of basketball with six assists against just one turnover. That's a fine night even with the shooting effort, and it's a strong sign of progress for a guy who hasn't seemed to be able to put it all together offensively this season.
It's good to get a win, to make everyone - players, coaches, and fans - feel better. Because everyone needs to feel as good as possible as the Gamecocks head to their next game - in Rupp Arena.