By Ken Cross
The entire South Carolina Gamecocks basketball season may have turned in the last 11:30 of Tuesday night’s 75-68 win over Kentucky. With a basically new team that has seen the ebbs and flows of the game, it was time for the Gamecocks to turn back an ebb and they did.
South Carolina picked up it’s aggression on defense and frustrated the youthful Wildcats with several tough defensive stops followed by offensive conversions as the Gamecocks converted on the free throw line, 9-of-10 in the last 2:46, to put the game away and even their SEC mark at 3-3.
“The thing I am proudest is we have had moments like this in previous games – but away from home – at Alabama, Temple up at the Garden, at Clemson and when I talk about leadership it’s when things are not going your way and you look for someone with courage and this is the first time all year and I see it today,” said coach Frank Martin, “Chris Silva, Wes Myers, and Frank Booker really stepped that up.”
— Gamecock MBB (@GamecockMBB) January 17, 2018
Silva was virtually impossible for Wildcats big men Nick Richards and P.J. Washington to handle. He was fluid in the paint and aggressive. He made 9-of-17 baskets and 9-of-13 free throws in scoring 27 points in 35 minutes.
“Chris is a horse,” said Martin, “He is not even close to the player that he is going to become. You can tell a lot of times when he is in traffic, his footwork is still not as clean as it needs to be. His release point is still too low. He has to learn to extend it in traffic. That’s part of growth.”
Silva leads by example. He hasn’t played the game but five years and he always taps into Martin’s knowledge and Silva wants Martin’s coaching to make him even better. He scored 14 of his 27 points after the Gamecocks trailed 57-43 and we looking for ways to make runs and eventually turn the momentum int he game.
“He’s an awesome kid and I coach him harder than anyone on our team and he takes it,” explained Martin, “I shouldn’t say he takes it because it sounds like he is not comfortable with it. He embraces it and that’s why everyone else allows us to coach them because ‘their guy’ wants to be coached. I have real fun with this team. I am proud of those guys tonight.”
Martin saw the discipline that he wanted from their under-4 time out into the clutch points of the game. Myers gave the Gamecocks the lead for good on a layup and then the Gamecocks made 9-of-10 free throws in the last 2:46.
“Defensively our attention to detail was on point and offensively, even though we missed some stuff, we scored enough to win,” explained Martin, “We took good shots we didn’t turn it over. The crowd makes a different. It makes it fun.”
Martin saw the ownership and leadership come to fruition as Kentucky led 57-43 with 11:30 remaining. He evaluated the players to find out who still had a spark and then found players still engaged in the game and motivated them even more. In turn, they picked up guys who were down.
That was a moment about kids taking ownership and that is what we have been pushing for for a long time,” he said, “Our guys took ownership, now what are we going to do? Are we going to build on that? Are we going to be better at practice Thursday?”
The fact that Tennessee is on the horizon on Saturday makes Martin question even further.
“They play as hard as anybody, so what are we going to do?” asked Martin, “Are we going to continue that leadership or are we going to be quiet? There’s a lot of unknown now with our team. I like our guys. I have no problem with our guys. They are fun to coach. We have to grow up.”