Men’s pregame: Gamecocks look to bounce back vs. USC Upstate

dcloninger@thestate.comDecember 18, 2013 

Dec 17, 2013; Columbia, SC, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks forward Michael Carrera (24) apologizes to a referee for an outburst in the second half against the Manhattan Jaspers at The Colonial Life Arena.

JEFF BLAKE — USA TODAY Sports

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    USC UPSTATE (5-5) at SOUTH CAROLINA (2-4)

    When: 4 p.m. Thursday

    Where: Colonial Life Arena, Columbia

    TV: SportSouth/Fox Sports Carolinas

    Tickets: Available at the box office

    USC Upstate’s probable starters: G Ty Greene 6-3 Jr. (14.9 ppg, 2.9 rpg); G Mario Blessing 6-2 Jr. (8.0 ppg, 6.8 rpg); F Torrey Craig 6-6 Sr. (18.2 ppg, 7.1 rpg); F Jodd Maxey 6-8 Sr. (11.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg); F Ricardo Glenn 6-8 Sr. (4.9 ppg, 2.4 rpg)

    South Carolina’s probable starters: G Ty Johnson 6-3 Jr. (12.2 ppg, 2.3 rpg); G Sindarius Thornwell 6-5 Fr. (12.7 ppg, 3.5 rpg); F Michael Carrera 6-5 So. (7.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg); F Demetrius Henry 6-9 Fr. (7.7 ppg, 5.0 rpg); F Mindaugas Kacinas 6-7 So. (7.5 ppg, 7.8 rpg)

    Next game: USC plays St. Mary’s at 11 p.m. on Sunday in Honolulu in the first round of the Diamond Head Classic.

In the first five minutes, everything was fine.

South Carolina was running right at Manhattan, driving to the rim, working inside-out, playing defense and holding the Jaspers to one shot per possession. The Gamecocks shot to a 10-4 lead and the thought was that if Manhattan wanted to turn the game into a track meet, let it — USC was equipped to handle it.

But a turnover between two three-point plays later, the game was tied. The Jaspers kept running and the Gamecocks didn’t. Their defense had no answers for a team that jammed the ball right down their throats. When the Gamecocks had to match it, they couldn’t.

Frank Martin wants the offense to flow from great defense. What to do when the Gamecocks get forced into a shootout, when their defense begins to flag and they have to have a bucket?

The hope is the Gamecocks remember what they’ve practiced, which is to keep running the sets, have faith in the system and if nothing else, drive to the basket, hoist a shot and get fouled. For what it’s worth, USC was earning enough trips to the line on Tuesday; the Gamecocks just couldn’t make nearly enough to match Manhattan’s free throw production, much less overcome it.

The plays USC was running were working, but only in spurts. Bruce Ellington scored USC’s first five points. Ellington and Ty Johnson were slashing to the basket. When the Jaspers went to a 1-3-1 defense and spread the Gamecocks out, Johnson found Mindaugas Kacinas camped on the block for an easy basket, and another entry pass was taken by Kacinas and flipped to Laimonas Chatkevicius for another two.

It stopped working. The Jaspers ran over USC’s shattered defense and the Gamecocks couldn’t counter. Players seemed as if they couldn’t make up their minds about the best way to get the Gamecocks back in the game — run the plays, or try to freelance?

“We’re just trying to play within the system, as coach Martin wants us to do,” Johnson said. “The pressure kind of messed it up a little bit, but coach Martin wants us to run plays, and not just go one-on-one, break it down, whether it’s open or not.”

Sindarius Thornwell led USC with 17 points. Johnson had 12. Michael Carrera had 10.

The margin for error has shrunk. The Gamecocks are back at it Thursday when USC Upstate (5-5) visits. Only one way to see if USC learned anything from the Manhattan game.

“You’ve got to have five guys on the floor that understand their responsibility and all do it to the best of their abilities,” Martin said. “And we’re still trying to figure that out. When it’s easy, our guys do it. When it’s hard, that’s where our immaturity — guys tend to break stuff off, guys can’t maintain focus to finish a play to the end. But it’s a long season.”

Follow Cloninger on Twitter at @DCTheState

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