On paper, the Gamecock’s 64-60 win over the No. 9 Iowa State Cyclones at the Barclays’ Arena on January 3, 2015 remains Frank Martin’s signature victory here over a ranked, non-conference foe - at least on paper.
But last night’s 61-46 nationally-televised beat down of a surging No. 25 Michigan Wolverines club may end up being a bigger deal by a country mile.
As David Cloninger writes in The State, this is resume-win for next March - the kind that we didn’t have last season when it counted for a NCAA bid.
Great Defense but too many PFs
When the Wolverines came calling to the Colonial Life Arena, they were widely acknowledged as one of the hottest squads in the nation, having easily bested both Marquette and SMU in tournament play the prior weekend. The pundits particularly lavished praise on the Maize and Blue’s stellar defense. But last night it was the Gamecocks who delivered the D - and in dominant fashion.
Despite boasting four upperclassmen with double-digit scoring averages entering last night’s game, John Beilein’s UM squad simply could not find any offensive rhythm - recording just six field goals and one three-pointer in the first half .
Aggressively guarding the perimeter, the Cocks mixed up different zone and man looks throughout both halves and completely suffocated the visitors - holding the Wolverines to season-lows in points, 3-point shooting [7.7% (2-26)] and overall FG percentage [19.2% (10-52)]. All-B1G Senior G Zak Irvin, who was anticipated to be one of UM’s impact players against us, was limited to just 2-13 from the field (0-4 from the arc) and 8 TOs.
If there was a negative for the Gamecocks, however, it was foul-trouble. Personally, I thought there were way too many calls for ticky-tack touch fouls, but in fairness many were a lot of obvious reach-ins, blocking fouls and arm-swipes, too. Without the FTs, the Wolverines would have trailed much more than 33-27 at the half. I dont think the referees were against us, but clearly we are making it easy on them to blow the whistle. A lot.
Three minutes into the second half, four key contributors - Dozier, Silva, Kostar and McKie —all had 3 PFs, and overall we fouled 24 times to UM’s 17 (many of which came late when the game was out of reach). No Gamecock fouled out, but the Wolverines went into the bonus and double-bonus early in both halves and punished us from the charity stripe 24-32 to our 11-18. While we will take the result any day, we have got to work on eliminating the dumb fouls as the season progresses.
In the preview, I wrote that the Gamecocks’ Sindarius Thornwell might be the best player on the floor and he certainly put any questions about that to bed without any supper - registering a double-double in the process and clearly establishing himself as the player of the game. There was a bit of a scare early in the second when he his feet tangled with a UM defender and he landed hard on his left knee. He sat for a few minutes but came back strong and recorded 33 minutes (second only to Notice’s 35’).
At the break, Thornwell led all players with 11 points and 5 rebounds and at the final buzzer was the game-high scorer with 21 points (8-12 from the floor, 2-4 from the arc), along 10 rebounds, 3 blocks and 3 assists versus 1 personal foul and 4 turnovers. Only the Wolverine’s all-B1G Sr. F. Derrick Walton, Jr. was close with 15 points and 4 rebounds - and 7 of those points came from the FT line.
Thornwell’s three pointer with less than 10:00 in the second was a dagger in the heart to any hope of a Wolverine comeback. Number 0 absolutely dazzled last night and the Maize and Blue had no answer for him.
Gamecock Hustle - in the preview I said UM would out-rebound us and I was dead wrong - USC ended the game a rebound margin of 40-36. A lot of this was just pure hustle and desire which is really gratifying to see as a fan. Maik Kotsar had 5 boards (and 10 points), and Duane Notice grabbed 5 too (too go with his 13 points). By comparison, no Wolverine recorded more than 4 rebounds. There was a tremendous sequence in the second when three Gamecocks dove for the ball in the offensive court and ended up keeping the ball on the possession arrow. The whole night we were the aggressors on loose balls and hustle plays, and it showed.
Backcourt - Thornwell has a beautiful, smooth game but Duane Notice’s ability to go coast-to-coast with such power is great to watch and his 13 points were second among USC scorers; equally impressive were 5 rebounds and no turnovers. Despite the great team victory, P.J. Dozier really disappointed a little last night - registering 0 points, 3 TOs and 4 fouls in 17’, shooting 0-5). We will need P.J. to play smarter and better going forward. Justin McKie finished with 5 points (2 buckets and 1-2 from the stripe), 4 boards and O TOs, but his 4 PFs limited him to just 17’ also.
Gravett - My biggest Guard-play kudos after Thornwell and Notice go to Hassani Gravett - the RS Soph JUCO tranfer from Pensacola. The former 4A H.S. player of the year in Georgia, Gravett was ice-cold from the field (1-6 overall, 0-3 from three) but his hustle is going to make him a fan favorite - 4 assists and 4 rebounds in 29’, including a board where he is surrounded by four Wolverines but slashes in to grab the ball. His block on UM’s D.J. Wilson early in the second was spectacular.
Front Court - Chris Silva and Maik Kotsar had great nights with 10 points each and 3 and 5 rebounds respectively, but each got in early foul trouble that severely limited their minutes. - with Silva playing just 14’ and Kotsar just 23’. Their bench replacements (Felder, Tut, Gueye and Keita) unfortunately, could not contribute any points and only Gueye had any rebounds (2). We are going to need Silva and Kotsar to give us 30 good minutes as the season grinds on, which means making sure they stay out of foul-trouble which has plagued both this season.
Crowd - the announced attendance was 13,501 but it looked a lot smaller than that. Fortunately, the upper ring at the CLA is dark on TV and the fans in the lower seats were suitably energized so we didn’t look like complete chumps. It’s a shame we didn’t have more spectators on hand, and our woes on the hardcourt easily explain why, but with efforts like last night, Gamecock fans are going to start coming back to hoops in droves. This is a team that deserves our support and they are fun to watch.
Next Game - Carolina travels to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on Saturday for a 2:30 p.m. tipoff with AP No. 18 Syracuse Orange (No 16 in the USAToday Poll) for the Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Invitational.