Winning two out of three is almost as good of an entrance this South Carolina team could have asked for as the now annual Legends Weekend approaches.
The latest win came earlier this week when the Gamecocks hit the road for Athens and left the groovy college town with a 64-58 win, thus sweeping the season series versus the 'Dawgs. The win marked South Carolina's first SEC road win of the season, a feat that seemed too far to reach for some time. Sophomore guard Duane Notice and senior guard Tyrone Johnson scored 17 points a piece. Outside shooting was their weapon of choice. Johnson nailed four 3-pointers and Notice contributed three more treys. Johnson's scoring output was the most he scored this season since his 20-point outing against Florida in the SEC opener. Notice has struggled for much of league play. His 17 was his highest output in a conference game this season. The nine made 3-pointers in all for South Carolina marked the season high for the team in that category. The Gamecocks defense continued to be their staple. They held UGA to 37 percent shooting, the 13th time this season USC has held their opponent under 40 percent shooting from the field.
The aforementioned Legends Weekend is highlighted by Saturday afternoon's contest with Texas A&M. The legends will attend an evening reception Friday night and a pre-game "chalk talk" before the game. At halftime they will be honored at mid-court and then will attend a reception in the Frank McGuire Club after the game.
For the main event, the Gamecocks take on a Texas A&M team that has won nine of their last 11 games. The Aggies currently sit in third place in the Southeastern Conference, just one game back of second place Arkansas. A&M boasts a strong starting five led by junior Danuel House but he has recently received strong support from senior Kourtney Roberson. The senior is averaging 14 points over the last five games and in two recent outings, Roberson has put up 16 points, 11 rebounds at LSU and 20 points vs. Florida. The Aggies won both games.
House poured in 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting against LSU and currently ranks fifth in the SEC in scoring, averaging 15.9 points per game. Junior Jalen Jones is also a key contributor, averaging 13.8 points per game (10th in SEC) and 6.2 rebounds (12th in SEC). Junior point guard Alex Caruso is the guy that makes Billy Kennedy's team go. Caruso recently became only the sixth Aggie to notch 400 career assists. Last season, Caruso led the SEC with 170 assists and this year he's on the same path, dishing out 131 assists so far to lead the league. If he accomplishes the SEC assist title again, he'll become the first SEC player to lead the league in assists in back-to-back seasons since Florida's Nick Calathes in 2008 and 2009. His 5.8 assist average per game ranks 17th nationally.
This is only the fourth meeting all-time between the two schools and each meeting has occurred since A&M joined the SEC. The teams met twice last season and split the series. Texas A&M won the first meeting in College Station 75-67 while South Carolina crushed Texas A&M 80-52 in Colonial Life Arena two weeks later. Texas A&M won the other meeting, a 74-56 road win in 2013. This is the lone regular season match-up between the two schools this season and it holds significance for both.
Texas A&M is currently projected to make the NCAA Tournament and like Georgia, can't afford any bad losses. While South Carolina has shown progress and improvement, especially of late, a loss to the Gamecocks would still go down as a bad loss on the Aggies resume. For USC, they'll obviously want to put on a show to impress all the important alumni that will be on hand but the future needs to be the entertainment while the past is the audience.
South Carolina has five wins over four teams in the top 50 of the RPI. Texas A&M would be another as they currently sit just within that threshold at 40. If USC can pull off the upset, they may be able to boast yet another win over a team that'll be dancing come March. All this fanbase and Frank Martin want to see is fight and progress. Wins aren't the only way to show improvement but it sure would help the culture turn its excitement up to 11.
A&M only had four SEC road wins all of last year, they've already matched that, and their nine conference wins so far is already more than in 2012-13 or 2013-14. The Aggies hit the road after playing three consecutive games at home but they're as balanced a team as your going to find in this conference so road environments aren't a threat to them like they are for South Carolina. Their field goal percentage (45.8) ranks third in the SEC and their field goal percentage defense (39.8) ranks second in the conference. South Carolina must start fast like they did against Georgia but if they fall off in the second half like they did in Athens, it could spell yet another blown lead for this team. The Aggies are a better team than the 'Dawgs and they've got experience fighting back, winning seven games this season after trailing at halftime, highlighted by overcoming two 13-point deficits earlier this year.
Freshman point guard Marcus Stroman missed his third-straight game on Tuesday vs. Georgia due to a throat infection. On Frank Martin's weekly radio show, he said Stroman has lost close to 20 pounds due to his illness and is doubtful for Saturday, meaning Sindarius Thornwell will continue to hold extra ballhandiling duties.
The Gamecocks are 9-4 at home this season in front of the fourth largest attendance on average in the SEC.
Roy Philpott and Jon Sundvold have the call on the SEC Network when the game tips off at 12 p.m. ET.