COLUMBIA — He climbed the two steps and sat behind the elevated postgame press conference table, his shoulders sagging in his suit coat, the realities of a dismal week weighing on him.
Frank Martin sighed. He had to know weeks like this would happen, and with 10 regular season games remaining in his first year as South Carolina’s basketball coach, he now must determine how to prevent the whole thing from spiraling, like it did last season.
February, the hardest month of the college basketball season, arrived in a bad way Saturday for USC, which lost 67-56 to Georgia, following a 75-36 defeat Wednesday at Florida. The Gamecocks (12-9, 2-6 Southeastern Conference) did very little right last week, leaving them needing to win four of their final 10 games to snap a three-year run of losing regular seasons.
The previous week had gone so well — a six-point loss at Missouri, one of the most frenzied road settings USC will face this season, then a 21-point win over Arkansas, the Gamecocks’ biggest margin of victory in an SEC game since 2005-06.
But now, the mess that was the Florida and Georgia games had come and gone, and as Martin tried to make sense of it, he did not mince words.
“I’ve done just a poor job this past week of getting our guys ready to play,” he said to start his press conference. “I’ve got to do my job a heck of a lot better. My staff’s been on me about that, and I’m not going to expand on that.”
But he did, sort of.
He blamed himself for USC’s shoddy defense Saturday, when Georgia shot 58.1 percent.
“No energy, no discipline, no life,” he said. “We were just bad. They caught the ball wherever they wanted it.”
He blamed himself for the Gamecocks’ “stagnant” offense. Too little ball movement against a long team like Georgia — or Kentucky, which USC visits on Tuesday — is recipe for failure. USC shot 35.8 percent, its fifth-worst showing of the season. Of those five, three have occurred in the past five games, including 31.1 at Florida.
But USC’s leader, junior point guard Bruce Ellington, knows the players, particularly himself, have much to do with improving the Gamecocks’ offensive flow. The lack of it was evident in USC shooting 32 percent in the second half Saturday, when wing player Michael Carrera scored just one point, on 0-of-3 shooting, after having 15 in the first half, on 5-of-10.
“I’ve got to start being a more vocal leader on the court and get guys in the right place,” Ellington said. “We stand around a lot. If something doesn’t work, we just kind of stand.”
Martin refused to question his team’s effort, which, considering the dearth of talent Martin inherited, is a critical part of its success.
“If I demand that they play with better effort, they’ll probably play with better effort,” he said. “I allowed them to take a step back this week, and that’s not right on my part.”
But their lack of fight, for whatever reason, was evident this week in their offensive rebounding numbers. Entering the Florida game, USC had rebounded 45.9 percent of its missed shots. In the Florida and Georgia games combined, USC rebounded just 18 of its 65 misses (27.7 percent).
“Is that their fault?” Martin said. “No, that’s my fault, because I haven’t paid attention to it. I haven’t demanded as much as I need to. We’ll fix that. When I don’t do my job, I’m a big boy. I look in that mirror and I tell that guy the truth.
“The deeper into the year you go, the harder the games get, so you’ve got to have an unbelievable amount of courage, of discipline, of toughness, so you can deal with the games. Obviously, this past week, we didn’t answer the bell.”