The South Carolina Gamecocks men’s basketball team knew coming into the 2013-14 season that it would be a struggle with seven freshmen and five sophomores on the roster. That youth did not stop head coach Frank Martin from scheduling some very difficult non-conference road matchups with Baylor, Oklahoma State and Clemson. The learning experience value was high from those games, even though they all resulted in losses.
Coming into their rescheduled game with Vanderbilt on Thursday, the Gamecocks had only picked up one victory in conference play in the ever-toughening SEC. South Carolina played some inspired ball, coming away with a 65-58 over the Commodores to improve to 9-15 overall, 2-9 in conference.
The fans who did make it through the icy conditions to attend the game saw first-hand why South Carolina will be good in the near future. 51 of the team’s 65 points scored today were scored by those freshman and sophomores recruited by Martin; in fact, the underclassmen have combined for 75.5 percent of the minutes played and 68.8 percent of the points scored this season.
They are led by highly-touted guard Sindarius Thornwell, who is the team’s second-leading scorer and leader in minutes played as a true freshman. Thornwell was rated as the seventh-best shooting guard in the country coming out of the prestigious Oak Hill Academy in Virginia. He makes up the South Carolina freshman “Big 3″ alongside 6-foot-9 Demetrius Henry and 6-foot-2 point guard Duane Notice.
South Carolina’s youth movement doesn’t stop there with big contributions coming from three sophomore players as well — all of whom are post players. 6-foot-5 Michael Carrera has chipped in 151 points followed by 6-foot-7 Mindaugas Kacinas with 124 points, while 6-foot-11 Laimonas Chatkevicius has 102 points. Combined, that’s 22.3 percent of the team’s points.
South Carolina fans are starving for basketball success. They have not made the Big Dance since the 2003-04 season under then-head coach Dave Odem. The 2014 NCAA tournament is out of the question unless South Carolina can somehow win the SEC tournament in March, but if the club can continue to grow under Martin, they could be looking at deep runs in 2015 and 2016.
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