January 25, 2012
There's a difference between defeated and daunted.
Through four SEC games, the Gamecocks were unquestionably the former. Wednesday night showed they were far from the latter. After plenty of flashes and stretches, South Carolina pieced together enough of both to capture its first SEC win, a 56-54 victory over RPI #29 Alabama.
"We came out and worked like we were undefeated," Darrin Horn said of his team's practices leading up to the Alabama game.
Now comes the tricky part: making that win stick on the road. The Gamecocks face an Ole Miss team Saturday (13-7, 3-3 SEC) that led Florida by as many as 16 points before falling 64-60 Thursday night.
The Rebels come in defeated.
Will they be daunted?
Pre-tip reads before the Gamecocks and Rebels tee it up at Tad Smith Coliseum:
Suspended Drivers: Tenacious defenses. Opportunistic offenses. Imposing frontcourts. Inexperienced backcourts. And rancidly unreliable three-point shooting. On the surface, it seems like Ole Miss and Alabama have much in common. But Horn says the Rebels have one area which makes them more dangerous.
Can the Gamecocks deny dribble penetration like they did so well vs. Alabama?
"They have a few more guys who can just go create offensively for them," he said on "Carolina Calls." "That's going to be a challenge for us, especially on the road. They create pretty well off the dribble, even from the '3' and the '4' spot. We're going to need to do a good job defensively of keeping the ball in front."
Horn said his team did its best job all year of denying driving lanes from Alabama's guards. Against superior slashers like the Rebels' Jarvis Summers, Nick Williams, and Jelan Kendrick, the Gamecocks will need an even better effort. Ole Miss' biggest strength comes on the boards:
- 1st SEC rebounding margin, SEC games (+9.8)
- 2nd SEC rebounding offense (40.0)
- 2nd SEC offensive rebounds (13.6)
If Carolina can't contain Ole Miss' dribble penetration, it'll result in more rotations off the ball - which could leave the Gamecocks out of position for rebounds.
...And On the Other Side: As the Alabama game illustrated, South Carolina is a different team when R.J. Slawson and Anthony Gill are active on the boards. After combining for just 3 rebounds against Auburn, "Slaw" and "AG" had 9 rebounds apiece against the Crimson Tide. Most importantly, the Gamecocks lost very few "chase-down" rebounds, where a shot caroms away and a player must beat his opponent to the ball.
Ole Miss ranks 23rd in the nation in 2pt. FG% defense (33.7%). Alabama ranks 12th. To be successful, the Gamecocks must follow the same blueprint from Wednesday: rebound their misses and not waste possessions on turnovers.
Man To Stop: Reigning SEC Player of the Week, forward Terrance Henry (right). The Rebels no longer have dynamic point guard Chris Warren - and his rabbinical beard - as their instant-offense alpha dog. In addition, leading scorer Dundrecous Nelson (11.2 ppg) was dismissed from the team in January for a violation of team rules. The Rebels have instead turned to Henry, a 6'9," 210-pound forward with a soft touch around the perimeter. Darrin Horn describes Henry as "long and versatile," and he has the ability to open the floor for his teammates. He's also nimble enough to be a defensive headache - head coach Andy Kennedy matched him on Mississippi State point guard Dee Bost, and placed him at the top of a 2-3 zone against Georgia.
Horn on Holloway: Paired alongside Henry in the frontcourt will be Rebel-turned-Gamecock-turned-Rebel-again Murphy Holloway. The Irmo native played his first two seasons in Oxford before transferring to South Carolina. After sitting out the 2010-11 season, Holloway opted to return to Ole Miss.
Darrin Horn gave his first comments about facing Holloway on "Carolina Calls":
"I'm actually looking forward to seeing him just personally. [He's a] terrific kid. I really enjoyed having him in our program. He's doing what we all know he does well - rebound the basketball, and finish at the rim, and use his great athleticism for the Rebels."
The Gamecocks won't need a lengthy scouting report on Holloway. He's athletic, active, and a powerful offensive rebounder. He also has a dominant left hand and a nifty spin move off the dribble. But Horn shrugged off the notion that their familiarity with "Big Murf" gives them an edge.
"The thing is, what he's good at, he's good at every night. He's hard to key on. He's just a terrific athlete that's very active around the basket. I don't know if there will be much to our advantage on that," he said.
One For The Road? The home team has won 18 of the last 20 games in this series. Former SEC West teams are a combined 61-8 at home this year (.884).
Lakeem Jackson will try to deliver a rare win for the road team in this series.
State of Rebellion: Ole Miss played a sagging 2-3 zone against Georgia, daring the Bulldogs to shoot 3's and choking down driving lanes for Georgia guard Gerald Robinson. South Carolina, as we've seen all year, plays its best when it makes a concerted effort to play inside-out. After an abysmal 5-31 three-point performance against Alabama - even Darrin Horn called it "horrific" - will Ole Miss use the same tactic against the Gamecocks?
Force The Forcing: Ole Miss has six guards on its roster. Five of them are freshmen. That lack of seasoning shows up most in Ole Miss' turnovers and three-point shooting. Like Alabama, Ole Miss shoots an alarmingly low 28.3% from three-point range, good for 328th in the nation. The Rebels also commit an SEC-high 15.6 turnovers per game, more than one turnover worse than the next biggest offender. Can the Gamecocks force the Rebel guards into forcing action in the halfcourt, and disrupt the flow of Ole Miss' offense?
And Finally... Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy played his freshman season at North Carolina State, where he played on the Wolfpack's 1987 ACC Tournament championship team. One Gamecock had a front-row seat for Kennedy's only year in Raleigh: head baseball coach Ray Tanner served as N.C. State's 45-second shot clock operator at the time.
"Andy Kennedy, sharpshooter," Tanner replied when I asked him about Kennedy.
Tanner also served as official scorer during the Jim Valvano era. But when it came to operating the shot clock, he wasn't above giving his alma mater a slight home-court advantage.
"I liked watching the game better than keeping the score. You could also start [the clock] a little later when the Wolfpack had the ball," Tanner said slyly.
The clock for the Gamecocks starts at 7:00 p.m. Saturday.
Now that we're prepared, we hope you are as well. Our coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. EST on the Gamecock IMG Sports Network. We'll see you in Oxford.