Saturday, November 21, 2009

USC Overcomes The Bully In South Florida To Win 69-66

The Bulls of South Florida appeared to bully and outplay the USC Gamecocks in every category, but found themselves at the short end of a very physical and competitive game, that was everything but pretty.  The visual is a follows, the Gamecocks shot the ball poorly in the first half going 11-32 (34.4%) from the field with 0-8 3-point shooting.  The Cocks only faired a tad better in the second half shooting 12-30 (40.0%) and 2-9 from long range.  South Florida (3-1) on the other hand appeared ready to bully the home squad taking a halftime lead of 29-35 on 13-25 shooting (52%) and 2-9 from long range. The poor shooting hindered recording significant assists, as the Cocks only tallied 3 for the entire game.  USF Forward, Augustus Gilchrist provided much of the challenge in the paint for Gamecocks in the first half scoring inside and from the charity stripe to eventually lead all scorers with 19 points for the game.

But the second half was more of the same, but the bully became the victim as USC (4-0) matched physicality on the strength of intense defense that totaled 17 turnovers denying USF scoring opportunities, along with 4 critical blocks by Sam Muldrow who totaled 6 for the game, 19 offensive rebounds to offset poor shooting with second chance baskets which created 22 second chance points, hot shooting from the free throw line down the stretch hitting 11 of their last 14, (21-30 or 70% overall).   Devan Downey  scored 10 in the first half to help keep the margin close and finished with 17, Dominique Archie added 15 for the game, with perfect shooting (4-4) from the FT line.

The tale of two halves with USC finding themselves down by as many as 10 points early in the first half due to great shooting by USF, converted a great defensive effort in the second half to allow only 34.8% accuracy on 8-23 shooting.  Points off turnovers in the first half went to the Bulls 9-4, but in the second half the Cocks took command of the turnover game scoring 9 points and allowing no points on turnovers and finishing the game with only 10 turnovers while causing 17 for their bullish opponents.  With bench scoring, 4-6 in favor of USF, second chance points 10-10 and points in the paint, 20-16 favoring USC, all fairly close in the first half, USC turned it around in the decisive half with advantages in all categories; 18-4 points in the paint, 12-3 second chance points and 12-3 bench scoring.  The second half was again a product of good coaching adjustments by Head Coach Darrin Horn and staff, using its depth to maintain constant defensive pressure and denying easy shots by the Bulls.  With balanced minutes distributions for nine USC players, with only Archie and Downey exceeding 30 minutes,  the Gamecocks were allowed to control the final half against a hard and physical game that saw the Bulls limited to a 7 player rotation primarily to post the 69-66 victory. [final stats]

Although an ugly shooting night and not a pretty general stat line.  The Cocks and Coach Horn can be extremely pleased with a poised finish of a game full of adversities, challenges and struggles, resulting in a win categorized as a grinding solid team effort.  Every USC player made a significant contribution in the victory.

Next  Charleston Classic challenge Miami (4-0), a 67-60 winner over UNC-Wilmington.  This will be a battle of two very well coached teams with up tempo styles and young aggressive philosophies.  The Hurricanes are coached by Frank Haith.

Friday, November 20, 2009

La Salle Too Tall, But USC Was Too Deep In 78-68 Win

With a starting lineup with no player smaller than 6'5" and all others 6'6", 6'7" 6'8" and 6'10", La Salle University seemed geared to create problems for the slightly smaller USC Gamecocks.  Along the way, someone forgot to tell Head Coach Darrin Horn that size matters.  Early in the contest, it appeared that the size was a problem for the Gamecocks, playing in the late game of the Charleston Classic, hosted by the College of Charleston.  Scoring only 11 points in the first 10 minutes and trailing by eight points at 11-19, the Cocks were challenged in the paint by 6'10" Aaric Murray who recorded 4 first half blocked shots.  Offensive rebounding and good shot selection allowed the Explorers, Coached by Dr. John Gianini, to maintain a 22-30 advantage at the 5:00 mark of the first half.  It was at this point that Coach Horn's bench rotations, pressure defense and inspired glass aggression by the USC post ignited a 16-6 run and a 2 point half time lead, at 38-36.  The Gamecocks would never trail again.  Coach Horn's halftime speech charged a 20-5 run to start the second half and a 17 point lead that would not get any closer than 12 until the final token jump shot by T.T. Carey with 26 seconds to go, once Horn had cleared the bench at the 1:57 mark.

What changed for the smaller USC squad or the taller La Salle unit?  Depth, good substitution match-ups, energy and aggressive defense by South Carolina.  Not to mention that the early blocked shots by Murray did little to intimidate the USC post and swing players who constantly attacked the glass.  With USC shooting only 4-14 (28.6%) from long range, it was clear that this game would be won in the paint and Horn made sure that a good practice week for Austin Steed and an ever improving outing by Johndre Jefferson helped Mike Holmes, who scored most of his 15 points in powerful moves around the basket, and Dominique Archie who led USC with 17 points, dominate 60% of the basketball game.  Steed's first half effort helped stabilized the post advantage for the Gamecocks, while Brandis Raley-Ross, 16 points on the night, was the only Gamecock who could consistently find the range from downtown going 4-6 from 3-point range, hitting the only 3-pointers for the Cocks all night.  Even with nearly 52% shooting in the first half the La Salle team playing as the visitors could not hold off the powerful run and eventual control of the game by the Gamecocks.  The effective play of the nine primary rotation players produced difficulty for the Explorers to find good shot opportunities consistently and the result  44.4% shooting in the second half, with USC shooting 56.7% over the same period with many baskets coming on transition points created by turnovers and aggressive transition.

Rodney Green led La Salle with 23 points, while fan favorite Devan Downey rounded out the USC double digit scoring with 10 points.  The 78-68 victory was the third straight double digit win for the Gamecocks (3-0) in a many outings.

Tonight the Gamecocks will now play the Bulls of South Florida, who edges out Davidson earlier in the evening 68-65.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Gamecocks Slow Start Ends In USC Blowout

After an extremely slow start for the up tempo Gamecocks, the USC basketball squad recorded a 90-66 victory over Georgia Southern on Monday night.  Dominique Archie produced 18 points as South Carolina pulled away in the second half.  Devan Downey added 14 points, with Brandis Raley-Ross scoring 13 and Mike Holmes contributing 12 for the Gamecocks now 2-0 on the early season.

After trailing by as many as 7 points in the first half , South Carolina took control late in the final minutes of the first half to take a 43-36 lead at the break on a 9-2 run, scoring the final 5 points of the half.  The Gamecocks would use a 16-0 run, in the first 5 minutes to start the second half to basically blow the game open against the Eagles (1-1), coached by Charlton Young, a former Georgia Southern All Conference Player, now in his first year as a head coach.  Picked to finish 6th in the Southern Conference, the Eagles looked like a conference contender early in the game, hitting key baskets early and pounding the glass for second chance points against the larger South Carolina team. 

Coach Darrin Horn was extremely calm and cool throughout his teams early struggles, issuing very deliberate instructions while showing no signs of anxiety over the early struggles.  Horn used various player combinations until players starting executing and began to both protect the defensive glass, while adding intensity and extra effort for loose balls and generating turnovers.  At one point the USC players appeared to relax and allowed the Eagles to slip within 11 points before extending another run that basically pushed the game into the laughter status. 

This game of runs and fun saw the athleticism of Archie (3-pointer), Holmes (4) and LaKeem Jackson (5) scored 12 of the 16 points in the early second half run.

Ben Drayton scored 15 and Willie Powers scored 14 to pace the Eagles, who saw their coach issuing enthusiastic, sometimes very animated instructions and gestures throughout the ballgame.  It was clear that Young was preparing his team for a optimistic season in the Southern Conference, never offering a moment for the team to concede a game decided early in the second half.  [final stats]

Coach Horn could be pleased to watch his team play through an early slump to take control of the game through aggressive defense, floor communication and improved shot selection in the half court and during transitions.  Another good test for the Cocks who placed several players on the court early to gain the much needed major college arena experience.  In this case, to experience a little adversity and participate in playing through it.  Another win for the intangibles of the game of basketball. 

The only concern continues to be the perimeter shooting from players other than Archie and Downey.  The season has not yet offered a consistent performer in this area.  Looking for Ross to try and fill that void from the regular player rotation.

Next for the Gamecocks, the LaSalle Explorers, in the Charleston Classic Thursday night.  LaSalle will offer another test, with more obstacles and the first road game for the newcomers on this team, along with the tournament format that will offer back to back game nights to examine the stamina of this unit.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Some Questions Answered In Opening Game Win

Darrin Horn's USC Gamecocks opened the season with an impressive 88-50 win over Alabama A&M.  Led by All-Conference Point Guard, Devan Downey, the Gamecocks started the game in a blaze, scoring the first 12 points and quickly continued building a huge lead that was ignited by the early perfect shooting of Downey who scored on his first five shots, including three 3-pointers. Downey finished the game with 23 points, 4 assists, 2 rebounds and 2 steals.  The team applied extended pressure early to create problems for the Bulldogs, coached by Van Pettaway.  The athletic but out-manned Alabama A&M squad could not muster any real challenge for the Gamecocks after an 8-0 run that made the score respectable for a minute early in the first half.

So what were the concerns in this ball game?  Initially it would be the 8 turnovers from the point guard position, poor shot selection, settling for perimeter shots too often when penetration options and post plays were obviously available.  The result, 7-24 (29.2%) from 3-point range.  While the four returning starters combined for 65 points with neither player on the floor for more than 23 minutes, the combined bench offered only 23 points with significant minutes played.  Too many lazy or out of position fouls against an out-manned squad as a result of poor rotations or effort, even though this may have been a result of an early 20-point lead and the aggressive defensive scheme initially.  With the South Carolina length, the Cocks allowed 16 offensive rebounds, another product of fundamental breakdowns and lack of effort at times boxing out under the glass. After a scorching 16-18 at the charity stripe, the Cocks could only find 50% of its' second half free throws on 7-14 shooting, an Achilles heel of the USC squad last season.  Perimeter shooting could be a problem in the general rotation.

Other than the score and the win, what were the positives of this season's opener?  The most promising factor was the energy level during most of the game, with specific emphasis on the opening minutes of the game.  While Downey presented his court brilliance early, Dominique Archie and Mike Holmes were steady and productive (15 and 14 points respectively), but Sam Muldrow was both an enforcer and versatile.  Muldrow, now starting the season healthy, was very offensive inside, taking his game outside as well, with a new green light from his head coach.  In 19 minutes, Muldrow posted 13 points, 3 blocks and 7 rebounds on 4-5 shooting from the field, hitting his only 3-pointer, and going 4-4 from the line.  His rebounding total also included 4 offensive rebounds.  Reserve postman, Johndre Jefferson, was very active and appears very comfortable without being the focal offensive option, as Jefferson used 4 offensive rebounds (7 total) to post 8 points and adding 3 blocks during his 18 minutes of play.  Coach Horn has the luxury of playing 9 deep in his rotation this season, making it easier to keep primary players fresh, while allowing his intense defense and up-tempo style aggression to flow throughout the game.  This rotation does not include shooting specialist Evaldas Baniulis and newcomer, Stephen Spinella, both whom will be needed to help stretch defenses attempting to collapse the lane to deny Downey penetration and negate some of the USC post length.  Freshman sensation LaKeem Jackson, was scoreless on 0-6 shooting (0-4 from 3) and displayed early maturity avoiding frustration and continuing the little things that don't show up on stat sheets.  His defense and aggressive play still posted 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks and a steal to go along with several uncharted ball deflections on defense.  This defensive effort held the Bulldogs to 36% from the field and caused poor shot selection for the visiting opponents.  The team defensive effort also held the visiting squad to only 22 second half points on 10-28 shooting.

While the season opener was not the most impressive victory, it was a display of what should evolve into a very promising and exciting season as this team will only get better based on the practice and development philosophy of the young Darrin Horn era.  Even with the loss of shooting guard Zam Fredrick, USC appears to be a better ball club already.

Game 2 will be played tonight again at the Colonial Life Arena against a very athletic Georgia Southern ball club.