Martin, Gamecocks excited for home opener vs. Wofford

Martin, Gamecocks excited for home opener vs. Wofford
Houston forward Justin Gorham, left, fouls South Carolina forward Wildens Leveque while reaching for the ball during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke) (Source: Michael Wyke)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - South Carolina relishes its chance to finally lace it up at home for the first time this season.

The Gamecocks men’s basketball team hosts Wofford on Thursday at 6 p.m.

“Usually, we practice there [Colonial Life Arena] the day before the game, and our guys get all jacked up because they know that means game time at home is coming,” said Gamecocks head coach Frank Martin. “Our guys like to play. That’s number one. Number two, get the opportunity to get a loss out of your system. And, number three, we finally get an opportunity to play at home.”

Let’s focus on the second of three things Martin mentions, the most recent 10-point loss at Houston, who was ranked 10th at the time. Carolina carried a four-point lead into the break on the road against a top-flight Cougars squad, who now sit at No. 7 in this week’s AP Top 25 poll.

“We’re up four with nine turnovers and 10 missed free throws in the first half,” added Martin. “You give a winning team the opportunity to stay alive, they usually come back and they make you pay for not putting them down when you had a chance.”

Martin points out that Carolina did not handle Houston’s second-half aggression well, adding his team needs to find a way to play consistently for 40 minutes.

“We lost our emotional focus,” Martin said. “We allowed the environment, the other team’s emotion, to impact us. We should handle that moment better.”

Being a veteran team, Martin expects more from his group.

Losing two of the first three against quality competition does not signal the sky is falling. Although Martin feels the skies over Columbia were not favorable right before the season tipped off two weeks back.

“That big cloud that just sits over our campus kind of dumps on top of us as soon as a male sport starts being played,” Martin quipped.

He’s referring to a couple of injuries to key contributors roughly a week out ahead of the opener. First, it was sophomore guard Trae Hannibal with a rolled ankle. Then, it was sophomore forward Jaylen McCreary with a concussion. In the second game of the season in Kansas City, Mo., against Tulsa, senior guard Seventh Woods sprained his knee. All three had been playing at a high-level in practice.

Martin says Hannibal and McCreary are back to 100%. Woods might not be all the way healthy, but Martin loves the winning plays he makes on the floor and the personality he’s brought to the team.

The sky is not falling yet. Martin remains optimistic about this year’s team.

Let’s look ahead to Thursday’s in-state showdown with Wofford. Martin remembers how the Terriers’ “whooped” on them two years ago inside CLA. Wofford won 81-61 in that November meeting in 2018.

This time around, it is a younger group traveling to Columbia eyeing an upset, but they’re still talented and very capable of spoiling the Gamecocks home opener.

“They’re a little younger on the front line,” said Martin. “They got a young man who is a redshirt freshman [Morgan Safford], who I think is going to be a phenomenal player for them,” Martin said.

He also thinks highly of the two starting Terriers’ guard and what they bring to the court.

Ultimately, it all comes back to putting a full game together. Carolina has taken on tough opponents and, from Martin’s perspective, played well in four of six halves this season. The numbers support that.

Defensively is where Martin wants to clean some issues up, especially with the pick-and-roll defense. He calls it inconsistent. Playing better on defense starts with stronger communication on the court, especially when in a zone.

“If you’re not communicating, you’re not a good zone defensive team. You’re not a good team, period. It makes playing zone even harder. I don’t think we’re as good as we need to be right now as far as our communication. We have to get a lot better. The better we get at, I think we can end up becoming a real good zone team.”

Martin is confident his team has that winning DNA. He’s not concerned three games in, as the Gamecocks look ahead to their first opportunity to play at home on Thursday.

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