COLUMBIA, S.C. – — Forget that 14-17 record. Forget that 12th-place finish in the SEC.
USC will be favored today to accomplish something it hasn’t done since the last year of the Dave Odom era: Win a game in the SEC tournament.
The Gamecocks were one-and-done in each of Darrin Horn’s four trips to the conference tournament. To be fair, though, they were not favored in any of those contests save for the first one against Mississippi State.
It is that same Bulldogs team the Gamecocks will stare down tonight, albeit in much different circumstances for both programs.
While USC is again meeting Mississippi State with a first-year coach, the team Frank Martin inherited from Horn is vastly different from the one Horn inherited. That crew — consisting primarily of Odom’s players — entered the SEC tournament with a 21-9 overall mark and a 10-6 league record.
They lost to the Bulldogs, 68-62.
Martin’s Gamecocks can enter tonight’s game with some modicum of confidence, however, since they knocked off the Bulldogs a week ago at Colonial Life Arena.
In that game, USC might have found its go-to scorer.
Brenton Williams ripped the Bulldogs for 38 points that night, then followed up with an 18-point effort at Vanderbilt in the season-finale.
Martin had said following the Mississippi State game that he had thought the light had come on for Williams, who had stayed long after practice along with Bruce Ellington for extra shooting practice.
Martin said Williams maintained that regimen going into the Vanderbilt game.
“I won’t say I’ve been begging, but I’ve been trying to get our guys to understand we need to act like that,” Martin said. “Hopefully, (Williams) has learned that. As long as he embraces that kind of commitment and work ethic, Brent can do some good things for us.”
That extra practice on his shot has led to a confidence on the court in games, Williams said.
“I think I just became a little more aggressive than I was earlier in the season,” Williams said. “I think I’m more aggressive here toward the end of the year and the SEC tournament than I was during the season.”
The Gamecocks will need him to continue his upward trend because the Bulldogs challenged USC at times during that loss last week. Sandwiched around that loss to USC were wins against Ole Miss and Auburn.
USC is 16-21 all-time in SEC tournament play and 4-3 in Nashville during tourney play. Two of those wins came against Mississippi State.
Martin said he is eager to see what his team does in postseason play because this time of the year brings about a different set of expectations and a much different kind of pressure.
“Here we go. Postseason’s here, and that’s a completely different beast than the regular season,” he said. “Whenever you see a freshman have a great moment in the postseason, it makes you appreciate that young man even more because it’s a different set of emotions coming into the game and during the game than it is during the regular season .
“The next time you don’t find success in a game, you get on a plane and go home,” Martin continued. “That’s what postseason is about . It’s about understanding the moment and that’s why it’s so hard to win in postseason play.”
THE JUNIOR CLASS
Then USC coach Darrin Horn’s much-heralded recruiting class of 2010 has been a mixed bag:
Bruce Ellington;G;5-9/197;Team star split time with football for two seasons
Carlton Geathers;C;6-10/255;Plagued by injuries;limited playing time
Brian Richardson;G;6-4/175;In three years has averaged 5.9, 3.2 and 7.8 PPG
RJ Slawson;F;6-8/220;In three years has averaged 2.1, 4.0 and 3.4 RPG
Eric Smith;G;5-11/205;In three years has averaged 2.4, 4.1 and 5.6 PPG
Brenton Williams;G;5-11/175;Set USC SEC-game record with 38 points
USC’S OPENING GAME
Who: USC (14-17) vs. Mississippi State (9-21)
When: 7:30 p.m.
Where: Nashville, Tenn.
TV: WKTC (TWC Ch. 4)
Radio: WNKT-FM 107.5