What Happened: Rider

The Gamecocks moved to 3-0 on the season with an 88-76 video over Rider on Monday evening.  The win showed Carolina playing its best ball of the season on offense (1.18 points per possession), but also showed continued struggles on the defensive end.

The Four Factors

Four Factors Rider USC
eFG 56.6 64.2
TO Rate 23.3 24.1
OReb 25.0 41.7
FTR 39.6 23.3
POSS 73 75

This was a game where the Gamecocks let Rider shoot well, but shot the ball even better.  While Carolina opened a turnover gap in the first half, it disappeared by the end of the game, as both teams were rather sloppy with the ball on the whole.  South Carolina made a difference by doing what they’ve done well all season (surprisingly, even with a Martin-coached team): they won the battle on the glass.  The rebounding difference led to Carolina taking 7 more shots from the field (though conceding 7 more free throws).  That, coupled with the difference in shooting percentage, made all the difference.

Carolina Players

Advanced
%Min
%Shots
eFG%
OR%
DR%
Stl%
A%
Team
100.0%
100.0%
64.2%
32.3%
67.7%
6.7%
Jackson
80.0%
16.7%
87.5%
4.0%
24.2%
3.3%
15.0%
Smith
57.5%
17.4%
33.3%
5.6%
5.6%
2.3%
17.4%
Page
55.0%
27.3%
66.7%
0.0%
35.2%
0.0%
6.5%
Kacinas
80.0%
22.9%
77.3%
12.1%
8.1%
1.7%
0.0%
Carrera
0.0%
Richardson
67.5%
12.4%
50.0%
14.3%
4.8%
0.0%
29.6%
Slawson
47.5%
10.5%
0.0%
13.6%
6.8%
0.0%
19.7%
Williams
95.0%
21.1%
79.2%
0.0%
13.6%
0.0%
16.8%
Leonard
17.5%
57.1%
50.0%
0.0%
0.0%
7.6%
38.1%

The Gamecocks got solid production on the offensive end from all sorts of sources.  The best progress I saw last night (and see here) is the balance in who’s taking shots – in the first two games, three players were taking 25% or more of the shots available while they were on the court.  With the exception of Leonard (who played limited minutes), only Page eclipsed that mark in this game, and did so with a reasonable 27% of shots.  Adding balance to the offense is something I’ve wanted to see early on, and doing so while remaining efficient from the floor is a mark of progress.

As noted above, Carolina continues to thrive on the offense boards.  While Kacinas and Slawson were both impressive in grabbing over 10% of the misses that occurred while they were in the game, Brian Richardson added an impressive 14.34% rate in his 27 minutes to lead the team.  Again – Brian Richardson was our most efficient offensive rebounder last night.  I think that rant after the UWM game by Martin that our guards needed to rebound more on the offensive end got through (it helped that we took a lot of 3s, but that was Martin’s point – on long shots, the guards have a chance to grab rebounds, and need to do so).

The guards (if you can still call Lakeem Jackson a guard) also helped clean up the glass on the defensive end, with Jackson grabbing over 24% of those available and LaShay Page grabbing a ridiculous 35%.  As noted above, the creation of extra shots from the field was one of the two keys to Carolina getting out with the win last night (though secondary to, again, its preposterous shooting).

Four guys shot over 60% eFG last night (Jackson, Page, Kacinas, and Williams), and the latter three were taking over 20% of the shots available to them.  That’ll win games.  But as Martin noted post-game, we can’t count on it, and it’s been good shooting that’s saved the Gamecocks thus far in a few games where the defense simply hasn’t been up to snuff.

Lastly, we spent a lot of last season beating up on Damien Leonard, and one of the more interesting stories of the season thus far is how a guy who played over 20 mpg last year has barely seen the floor this season.  Four turnovers in seven minutes should help answer that question.  He has a lot of talent, but has to get better at a lot of things.  He can do it, and it will be interesting to see if he can become a productive member of this team, which remains sorely in need of depth.

Not to just hit Damien for this – everyone except for Eric Smith had more than one last night.  Which, given his role in bringing up the ball, is a testament to a fine job by Eric Smith in taking care of the basketball last evening (he also assisted on over 17% of the makes on the floor by his teammates while he was out there, another fine number).

Defense

Not nearly good enough, still.  Rider scored 1.04 points per possession, and shot 54% from inside the paint (they also hit 6 of 14 3PAs).  Turnovers and preventing second shots kept Carolina from losing, but they simply have to make shooting more difficult on their opponents to have any chance at beating the better teams on the schedule (who will do a better job preventing turnovers and hitting their own offensive glass).

Nuri Lindsay was as advertised, going 9-15 from the floor and adding 7-9 from the line.  Jonathon Thompson also played well given his high usage, but generally speaking, it wasn’t one or two players from Rider that beat up on the Gamecocks, but their simple inability to defend the paint.  It’s something that’s going to have to improve going forward.

Final Thoughts

It’s incredible how far this team has already come, especially when you watch them, because it’s evident how far they still have to go.  I’m becoming convinced that Frank Martin could finish the season with the best team we’ve had here since Horn’s first season (when Downey and company led Carolina to a co-share of the SEC East in a weakened version of that division).  A winning record – and trip to some sort of post-season tournament – isn’t out of the question, and given the weakness at the bottom of the SEC (UNC 95, Miss. St. 49 and St. Louis 70, A&M 49 were two other scores from last night), a finish in the top half of the conference is no longer out of the question.

Make no mistake – Martin is as good a hire as Hyman made at Carolina, and that includes Steve Spurrier.  This team – without its four best players from last season – has already showed dramatic improvement in three games, recruiting is picking up, and it will only get better when Carrera comes back (not to mention the potential of Ellington and Geathers joining at mid-season).  It has a long way to go, but it’s been a fun three games so far.

The next game is Wednesday night against Elon at 7pm in Columbia, before the team takes off for two games in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

 

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About marvinnedick

Blogging from the mid-Atlantic on Gamecock sports, as well as general musings on sports theory otherwise.
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