Men’s pregame: ‘Fire in your belly’ needed to win rebounding battle

dcloninger@thestate.comJanuary 14, 2014 

USC's Michael Carrera (24) and Mindaugas Kacinas (25) scrap it out with LSU's Johnny O'Bryant (2) and Jarell Martin (12) for a second half rebound.

C MICHAEL BERGEN — mbergen@thestate.com

  • SOUTH CAROLINA (7-8, 0-2 SEC) at TEXAS A&M (11-4, 2-0)

    When: 8 p.m. Wednesday

    Where: Reed Arena, College Station, Texas

    TV: SEC TV and ESPN3

    Tickets: Available at the box office

    South Carolina’s probable starters: G Duane Notice 6-2 Fr. (6.3 ppg, 2.3 rpg); G Sindarius Thornwell 6-5 Fr. (11.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg); G Brenton Williams 6-1 Sr. (11.1 ppg, 1.8 rpg); F Demetrius Henry 6-9 Fr. (6.3 ppg, 4.6 rpg); F Mindaugas Kacinas 6-7 So. (5.9 ppg, 5.5 rpg)

    Texas A&M’s probable starters: G Alex Caruso 6-5 So. (9.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg); G Jordan Green 6-5 Jr. (7.9 ppg, 2.5 rpg); G Jamal Jones 6-8 Jr. (10.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg); G Fabyon Harris 5-11 Sr. (7.3 ppg, 2.3 rpg); F Kourtney Roberson 6-9 Jr. (10.4 ppg, 7.7 rpg)

    Next game: USC hosts Ole Miss at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday.

Frank Martin once said that if he asked Mindaugas Kacinas to run through a brick wall, he wouldn’t have to ask twice — he knew he would look over and the Lithuanian sophomore would be buckling his crash helmet. That kind of effort and intensity, particularly in rebounding, has kept Kacinas on the floor.

Martin’s hoping that Kacinas’ dogged pursuit of the ball begins to rub off on the rest of his South Carolina team — the Gamecocks can’t begin to shake a losing streak unless they find ways to hold opponents to one shot on defense, and give themselves two or three cracks at the basket on offense.

“You got to have a fire in your belly,” Martin said on Tuesday, as USC (7-8, 0-2 SEC) prepared to leave for Texas A&M. “If you need someone else to light that fire, your ceiling’s going to eventually be a lot lower than it needs to be.”

The Gamecocks head to Texas to take on the surprising Aggies (11-4, 2-0), who are leading the league because of what Martin calls finally embracing the way coach Billy Kennedy wants them to play. An unselfish team, nobody on the roster can overwhelm an opponent, but the group can, and does.

“They have a lot of guys that score eight points and everything just adds up,” Kacinas said. “It’s pretty hard to defend them.”

USC is trying to get back in the win column and to avoid getting discouraged. Martin doesn’t see the latter as a problem, since the Gamecocks have played two outstanding opponents thus far in conference play. Not that that’s an excuse to lose.

“If you don’t get any rebounds and the other team gets 16 offensive rebounds, you probably didn’t do a very good job of matching the other team. It’s disappointing,” Martin said after the LSU loss. “There were a lot of rebounds to be had for us, and we got guys playing double-figure minutes that get zero offensive rebounds. Can’t have that.”

Martin is pleased with his team’s fight, not so pleased with its execution in crunch time. A big part of that is rebounding. During the past two games, point guard Ty Johnson has led the team in rebounding (another guard, Sindarius Thornwell, and forward Desmond Ringer tied Johnson for the lead against LSU).

The Gamecocks have been going against taller, heavier opponents in the paint, but Kacinas says it’s a matter of finding the passion to overcome it.

“What makes a good rebounder, it doesn’t mean how you look,” Kacinas said. “Everything’s about effort. If you put a lot of effort going for a rebound or a loose ball, it’s more likely you get a rebound. This is what I’m doing every single time.”

Without a consistent offensive attack, USC has to take advantage of every chance it has to get a basket. Rebounding is key to that, and after the Tigers got every long rebound to give themselves a second chance — and usually made that second chance — the Gamecocks knew they squandered a golden opportunity to win at home.

A&M won’t out-size USC, but playing at home after a huge win at Tennessee, the Aggies are confident. It’s up to the Gamecocks not to come out tight and be run out of the game from the tip, and to address their weaknesses.

That means the first time a ball bounces off the back of the rim, there needs to be a Gamecock’s hand first on it.

“Mindaugas is really trying,” Martin said. “We’ve played two real good teams that have got real good frontline guys, and there’s some rebounds that he’s been getting for us that he just couldn’t get against those two teams. The other guys have got to step up.”

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