With his team trailing Ole Miss 62-56 and 3:39 to play, Frank Martin didn't like what he saw.
But he liked what he heard.
Martin's volume is often inversely proportional to his players. The less his team talks, the louder - and madder - he gets. For the Gamecock head coach, silence equals selfishness. That's why, when the Gamecocks gathered for their under-4:00 media timeout, Martin was pleased to hear Bruce Ellington break the silence. The junior from Moncks Corner, S.C., urged on his teammates, saying they had worked too hard to not close the deal. Eric Smith soon chimed in. Even Michael Carrera, conscripted to the bench, shouted out encouragement.
"You break the huddle feeling good about, hey, let's go do this rather than let's go out there, and here we go again. That's where leadership comes in," Martin said in his post-game radio interview.
The Gamecocks talked.
And by game's end, Gamecock fans were talking, too.
Eric Smith (right) sank the game-winning three-pointer to beat Ole Miss.
Carolina scored the final seven points of regulation to seal a 63-62 upset over the third-place Rebels. The Gamecocks now take that newfound momentum into Athens, when they face the Georgia Bulldogs (12-14, 6-7 SEC).
Pre-tip reads before Carolina makes its return trip to Stegeman Coliseum (2:00 p.m. EST, Gamecock IMG Sports Network):
SEC-ond Coming: What did we learn from the Gamecocks' first meeting with Georgia, a 67-56 defeat February 2? Pay attention to these four factors:
1. Make Kentavious Caldwell-Pope work. The Gamecocks - and the rest of the SEC - only wish this Pope had resigned. The Bulldogs' 6'6" sophomore guard, a likely SEC Player of the Year, poured in a team-high 19 points and 7 rebounds against Carolina. Caldwell-Pope showed an uncanny ability to drive right or left, and score from any spot on the floor.
A player like "KCP" will get his touches no matter what. Said associate head coach Brad Underwood: "You can't let him do anything easy. You have to make him work and earn his points, so down the stretch he's a little fatigued. He shoots out of rhythm, and he doesn't cut as hard."
2. Screen Better. Underwood said his team did a poor job setting screens in their February 2 meeting. Against a jumbo-sized lineup like the Bulldogs, the Gamecocks need to "create length" by planting - and using - good screens.
3. Mann, He's Tough. At 6'4," 205 pounds, freshman point guard Charles Mann is Georgia's most gifted creator off the dribble. His 11 points and 6 assists against Carolina provided a second-half spark, and helped pave the way for a road win.
Mann's bullish driving style also leads to plenty of free throws: his 6.6 Fouls Drawn/40 Minutes ranks 24th nationally. South Carolina had one of its best games of the season denying dribble-drives against Ole Miss. Can they duplicate that success against Mann? By playing the dribble-drive well - i.e., not needing rotations - Carolina can also prevent him from setting up Georgia's three-point threats, Vincent Williams (38.2% 3pt. SEC) and Sherrard Brantley (33.3% SEC).
4. South Carolina's press didn't give Georgia as many headaches as they thought. The Bulldogs' 23.9% Turnover Percentage ranks 329th in the nation. Yet when the Gamecocks tried a full-court press against the Bulldogs, Georgia handled it with surprising ease. Don't let their deliberate pace fool you - the Bulldogs are sneakily good in transition.
Carolina may not press as much, but don't expect them to abandon ball pressure completely. Georgia's triangle offense relies on pacing and flow. If Carolina can throw Georgia's guards out of rhythm, they may make it difficult for them to run coherent offense.
The Dark Arts of the "Long Pass": Few players inspire more hold-your-breath moments in the SEC than Ole Miss mad-bombing guard Marshall Henderson. The SEC's leading scorer (19.7 ppg), Henderson was handcuffed to 11 points on 4-of-17 field goal shooting against the Gamecocks.
In his post-game interview, Martin explained what led to Henderson's long night. Surprisingly, it had less to do with on-ball defense.
The job the Gamecocks did against SEC leading scorer Marshall Henderson Wednesday could help them against Georgia's Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (17.7 ppg, 6.6 rpg).
"Our initial ball defense was good. That means our pick-up points were higher on the floor," he explained. "Keep the ball as far away from the baseline as possible, so the passes are longer."
Long passes lead to uncomfortable, out-of-rhythm catches. Because of that, Henderson couldn't pivot as easily into his shots, resulting in a 3-of-11 night from three-point range. That tactic could benefit them against Caldwell-Pope, who ranks second behind Henderson for the SEC's scoring lead.
Stat of the Week: Junior Eric Smith has more assists this year than his first two seasons combined.
Eric Smith Assists
First two seasons: 75
This season: 79
An Inside Look: To the chagrin of tongue-tied announcers everywhere, Laimonas Chatkevicius has begun to make a name for himself. The freshman from Klaipeda, Lithuania, posted a career-high 11 points and 7 rebounds against Alabama, then followed it up with a 7-point, 7-rebound effort against Ole Miss' dominant front line.
All season long, Chatkevicius' play has teased, tempted, and mostly tortured the Gamecock coaching staff. At 6'11" and a sturdy 250 pounds, he's the biggest post player the Gamecocks have. Yet when he arrived at South Carolina from South Kent School in Connecticut, he still needed to shed his "Euro post" tendencies. Instead of banging around the paint, he preferred to face-up and shoot from outside. At a preseason practice in October, Martin lamented that Chatkevicius had only grabbed one rebound in two hours.
Lie-MONE-is Ha-KEV-i-chitz (left) has averaged 9.0 points and 7.0 rebounds over the last 2 games.
Underwood, who coaches the Gamecock forwards, says "Big L" has embraced the dirty work of an SEC post player.
"The offensive end has never been a problem. He understands where every player should be on the play, in every set," Underwood said. "The one thing he's had to mature with is to understand the physicality, and to be able to play at the rim."
Chatkevicius wears that evidence on his arms, where grayish bruises mottle his skin. His willingness to get physical has also shown up in his block numbers:
Laimonas Chatkevicius - 210 minutes played
First 105 minutes: 1 block
Next 105 minutes: 5 blocks
Conditioning has also played a role. Chatkevicius logged 25 minutes against Alabama and Ole Miss.
"First game of the year, 25 seconds might have been a stretch," Underwood quipped.
The days of 25-second cameos for Laimonas Chatkevicius may be over.
Crashing Carrera: Michael Carrera suffered through his first scoreless game of the season against Alabama. He responded with flair and fury against Ole Miss, posting his fifth career double-double (13 points, 13 rebounds).
In the first half alone, Carrera collected the third most offensive rebounds by a freshman in a game this year.
Most Offensive Rebounds by a Freshman - 2012-13
1. Jordan Reed (Binghamton) 10
2. Anthony Bennett (UNLV) 9
Michael Kessens (Longwood)
Steven Adams (Pittsburgh)
Devin Thomas (Wake Forest)
Xavier Thomas (Colorado)
3. Michael Carrera (South Carolina) 8
And Finally... How loose were the Gamecocks when they returned to practice Thursday, fresh off their upset of Ole Miss?
"Andy Assalley, our Director of Basketball Operations, had our team working on the Harlem Shake all day," Underwood said.
He was joking, of course. But after shaking off a six-game losing streak, the Gamecocks have reason to feel good.
Our pre-game coverage begins at 1:30 p.m. EST on the Gamecock IMG Sports Network. See you in Athens. --AD--