WACO, Texas — Sindarius Thornwell had 20 points. Baylor’s Brady Heslip had 18. Taurean Prince had 12 rebounds and South Carolina’s Ty Johnson had eight assists.
The MVP of Baylor’s 66-64 win on Tuesday?
Fifty-five fouls were called during the game, resulting in 79 free-throw attempts in a contest that seemed to drag until Wednesday. The Gamecocks had seen this kind of game before — they also had a 55-foul affair in their exhibition win against USC Aiken — and know it’s part of the new game.
In an effort to increase scoring, pick up a smoother game flow, create more freedom of movement and become less physical, college basketball adopted several rules. Contact on defense — specifically, two hands; a forearm; constant jabbing with the arms; or using an arm bar — is prohibited.
“Please note,” the NCAA announcement said, “that simply touching the player with the ball is NOT an automatic foul.”
Several camped in the Ferrell Center on Tuesday begged to differ.
As the game slogged toward the finish, many potential fast breaks turning into half-hearted finishing moves because of a whistle at midcourt. A few fans in the end zones grumbled about the lack of excitement and that they were sick of watching free throws. The game turned out to be a thriller, USC missing two cracks at the game-tying bucket in the final 16 seconds, but much of the 39 minutes before that was spent on trying to learn free-throw shooting patterns for every player on each team.
The new rules favor teams that like to drive to the basket and teams that can hit free throws. The Gamecocks like that, since Frank Martin’s system requires that they play inside-out, they have the height to do it this year and they’re hitting their free throws.
USC, after making 25-of-36 from the line against Baylor, is up to 75 percent (45-of-60) for the season. USC was 68.8 percent from the line last season, and its highest finish in the previous six years was 70.1 percent two seasons ago.
Martin was hesitant to discuss it.
“I hope I don’t get any emails in the next two days about whether we practice free throws or not,” he cracked after the Gamecocks’ season-opening win against Longwood. “Let’s not jinx this. I like it when the ball goes in the basket, you know?”
Baylor coach Scott Drew was on the opposite side of the coin, although his team won. The Bears had several chances to make it a much less interesting game, but were 22-of-41 from the line.
“The good thing is that free-throw shooting is the one area that tends to get better in-season, and it was one thing that we practiced more this year than ever before because we knew we would have more,” Drew said. “I guess the first couple of games, until you get used to it in a game experience, it’s tough.”
The Gamecocks are still finding their way offensively, dynamo Michael Carrera playing limited minutes and Johnson going from scoring 18 points in one game to eight the next (with six from the line). Without a true big man to depend on — freshman Demetrius Henry is playing well but is not a post-up option — USC will need a consistent option to score points.
Right now, that’s the line. If the fouls continue to be called on the Gamecocks, OK.
“We’ve consistently gotten to the line here, and that means that we’re attacking the basket,” Martin said.
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