Call it “The Week to Beat the Streaks.”
South Carolina, seeking a pick-me-up after a win slipped away at Ole Miss, enters another week of SEC play with a chance to end two lengthy losing skids. The Gamecocks have dropped three in a row to Wednesday night’s opponent, Auburn, and have dropped 12 straight to their next opponent, Tennessee.
To have a winning SEC season, then an overall winning season, the Gamecocks (8-13, 1-7 SEC) must quickly right their ship.
They are optimistic about the attempt.
“I’m real happy with our team. I think we’re a much better team,” coach Frank Martin said on Tuesday. “We’ve got an upbeat locker room, there’s no negativity in there, and as long as it stays that way, we won’t have a problem.”
Five of USC’s seven SEC losses have been by eight points or fewer, with the Ole Miss game sticking a particular dagger into the Gamecocks’ sides. USC couldn’t have played much better in building a 15-point lead with 11 minutes to play, and then couldn’t play much worse, being nearly tripled in scoring for the duration.
As associate head coach Matt Figger said after the game, it’s about teaching the Gamecocks to embrace that moment instead of running from it. USC panicked when the game got tight instead of taking a deep breath and making that crucial basket or defensive stop to preserve the win.
“Most games, we’re in control,” point guard Duane Notice said on Tuesday. “We’re kind of shooting ourselves in the foot. It’s not like we’re not as good as these teams or as competitive.”
With four of the next six games at home, and one of the next six against a team in the current top five of the SEC standings, USC has the chance to get another win and try to build on it. It begins Wednesday with the Tigers, who have been a mainstay in the SEC’s cellar for the past five seasons but have managed to overcome the Gamecocks.
The Tigers have recorded 12 SEC wins over the past three seasons. Three of them have come against USC. It began in 2011, when Rob Chubb led the Tigers past the Gamecocks (in a pair of sneakers borrowed from the Gamecocks, no less) to derail a promising 2-1 SEC start. Auburn made an 0-3 USC start 0-4 the next season, and then beat the Gamecocks last year in Columbia to hand them an 0-2 start.
This year, the Tigers have a pair of lethal scorers in Chris Denson and KT Harrell, and have won two in a row after dropping their first six SEC games. They’re one game above last-place USC.
Martin likes his team, likes its resolve, likes its talent. He prays for patience and constantly preaches that the Gamecocks will not let a loss, nor a string of losses, bother them.
Yet he knows how much a win would do for the team’s confidence.
“When I accepted the job here, I didn’t expect to run a 50-yard dash,” Martin said. “I knew it was going to be a long run. If I’m patient, demanding, teach, but (have) patience, then our guys will follow that lead.”
If one streak falls, perhaps the next will, too.
Note: Ty Johnson’s broken foot is healing but it remains uncertain if he can return this season. The cast is off, but the X-rays showed that the foot is still not completely healed. Martin said he will be X-rayed again in two weeks. He will not practice or rehab until the foot is 100 percent.
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