Most South Carolina fans were probably incredibly excited to see that former Kansas State coach Frank Martin would be taking over their basketball program for this season. I don’t think the teams’ first action of the season was the kind of incredibly exciting the fans had in mind.
The Gamecocks squeaked out a 68-67 thriller against the Division II Kentucky Wesleyan Panthers on Tuesday, needing a huge bucket from junior guard Brenton Williams with under three seconds left to secure the win. South Carolina found themselves down by as many as 11 points in the first half, and shot a woeful 38-percent from the field on the evening, including a 3-for-15 effort from behind the arc.
Sure, teams come out rusty, and if you don’t think Martin has let his guys know it by now then you clearly aren’t familiar enough with the kind of coach he is, but is there reason to be discouraged by the results of this exhibition game?
Recent history should emphatically state NO. Remember Le Moyne? The D-II program that upset Syracuse in their last exhibition game heading into the 2009-10 season. Yeah, that sure was an embarassing loss, but the Orange went on to go 30-5 and stake claim on a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Obviously those expectations shouldn’t be placed on this relatively inexperienced South Carolina squad, which lost it’s top four scorers from a season ago. However, Martin is known for stringing together surprising seasons out of less accomplished teams, and just might be able to do the same this season in Columbia. While Tuesday night’s game shouldn’t have been so close, it was impressive to see Williams take a leadership role in not only hitting the game-winner, but leading the team with 22 points, when he didn’t even start a game last season. Also of note was the contribution from senior forward Lakeem Jackson, who was steady in the paint to the tune of 13 points and 10 rebounds.
If Martin can teach his team how to put this game in the past, as well as get the most out of a roster filled with players who haven’t been given an opportunity to shine, and talented freshmen Michael Carrera, they’ll actually look like they belong in the SEC. After this game, the jury’s still out.
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