COLUMBIA — Fans at Rupp Arena on Tuesday night noticed that South Carolina coach Frank Martin seemed less enthusiastic as Kentucky pulled away from the Gamecocks in the second half, on its way to a 77-55 win that could have been a much bigger blowout.
So, a few members of Big Blue Nation sarcastically encouraged Martin to get off the bench and coach. But Martin made a very conscious decision to remain seated, annoyed as he was with his team’s performance.
“I don’t coach when we aren’t doing what we’re supposed to do,” he said. “I’m not going to stand up there and clap so people say, ‘Look at him up there, still coaching.’ We didn’t do a single thing we talked about doing in two days of practice. We got out of the way and let them dunk every single time.
“What am I supposed to do? I don’t know. Maybe some guys are good at standing up and playing the part. I try to be the part. If my guys aren’t playing, I don’t see any reason I should be losing my mind there.”
Entering today’s home game against Tennessee, Martin’s first season has taken a frustrating turn. Two weeks ago, the Gamecocks performed admirably in back-to-back games, losing by six points at Missouri and beating Arkansas by 21. They seemed to be making progress.
But in their next three games, they were listless, falling to Florida, Georgia and Kentucky. Granted, nobody expected them to win at Florida, which hammered USC by 39, or at Kentucky. But Martin has said repeatedly this season that he doesn’t pay attention so much to wins and losses, though he realizes results matter, as he does to the details of USC’s performances. And lately, he hasn’t seen much of anything he likes.
“I can tell you, I never thought I’d see the day where the opposing team put the crowd to sleep,” Martin said Tuesday. “We did a heck of a job with putting everyone to sleep in there. Our guys completely broke away from the discipline that we try to instill, and then got out of the way every position so they could start dunking.”
The numbers have been grim lately for USC, particularly on defense, which is where Martin wants the Gamecocks to establish their identity. In the past three games, USC’s opponents have shot 52.8 (Florida), 58.1 (Georgia) and 61.4 percent (Kentucky).
USC allowed 50-plus percent shooting three times in its first seven games, but between then and the past three games, the Gamecocks gave up that number just once. Kentucky’s 61.4 was the highest percentage USC allowed all season. Georgia’s 58.1 was the third-highest. Before the Kentucky game, an opponent hadn’t shot 60-plus percent against USC since January 2010.
USC wasn’t expected to be a sharp offensive team this season, and certainly hasn’t been lately. The Gamecocks’ 28.8-percent shooting at Kentucky was their second-lowest of the season. Their 31.1 at Florida was their third-lowest.
But Florida and Kentucky can make a lot of teams look awful on offense. USC’s next two games, at home against Tennessee and LSU, are prime opportunities to get things fixed. USC is 12-10 and 2-7 in the Southeastern Conference at the midpoint of its league schedule.
They can still do it. Tennessee stumbles into Columbia at 11-10 (3-6). LSU entered Saturday night’s game against Alabama at 13-7 (4-5) and has already lost to USC, by nine in overtime.
But if the Gamecocks fall to both Tennessee and LSU, they will have a tough time avoiding their fourth straight losing overall record, something that hasn’t happened since their first four seasons in the SEC (1991-92 to 1994-95).
“We just have to keep fighting each day,” said shooting guard Damien Leonard.