COLUMBIA — South Carolina’s confidence is tethered to its shooting.
Everybody felt real, real good Saturday night.
The Gamecocks shot 54 percent from the field in a 90-64 rout of Vanderbilt, pushing past a staggering 29 fouls to even their SEC record at 3-3. After a whistle-happy first half where an incredible nine USC players picked up two fouls each (and coach Frank Martin received his second technical foul in the past three games), more dizzying offense against an overmatched opponent sent USC (11-8) into a key stretch.
In a season where there is no dominant team in league or country and an average record will get a Power-5 team into the NCAA tournament, none of the Gamecocks’ next five opponents are above .500 in the SEC. USC isn’t looking at the stretch due to its season being such a rollercoaster already, but the opportunity for another hill after a dip at Auburn on Wednesday is there.
Hot shooting has sometimes shown up. Free-throw shooting almost always hasn’t (the Gamecocks were 17-24 Saturday). Their defense can be sound if they get the right officiating crew, and they are getting contributions from players perhaps not expected to be nightly stars.
Put that all together …
Well, it’s the same story it’s been all season. This team can play very good basketball.
But will it every night?
“Any time you can score 90 points, it makes winning a little bit easier,” Martin said.
Justin Minaya posted a double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds (six offensive) and four others joined him in double figures. A.J. Lawson had a strong game in the midst of an inconsistent season (14 points), Alanzo Frink scored 13 points in 11 minutes and freshman Jalyn McCreary, receiving extended time with a foul-plagued front line, scored a career-high 11 points with five boards and a blocked shot.
With Keyshawn Bryant and Trae Hannibal returning after missing the past two games with injuries, the Gamecocks were whole. Vanderbilt (8-11, 0-6), without former Porter Gaud star Aaron Nesmith due to a stress fracture in his foot, couldn’t match the firepower and tied an SEC record with its 24th consecutive regular-season conference defeat.
There were 52 fouls in the game. Nine Gamecocks had two fouls each in the first half.
Any criticism from a coach gets met with a rebuke and a fine from the league office. USC’s players diplomatically tried to take the blame.
“I think we need to do a better job not fouling,” Minaya said. “Not use our hands as much. I think we’re getting a lot of hand-check fouls. Just got to do a better job guarding the ball.”
Freshman star Trae Hannibal continues to shine, with his uncanny speed and ability to get the ball to the rim. He only scored four points but had five assists and three steals.
Martin has taken some criticism for not playing him more, but Hannibal is a freshman and hasn’t yet grasped everything he needs to do to play more minutes. But even Martin had to grin and shake his head at some of the highlight-reel plays Hannibal collected Saturday.
“Trae fought Saben Lee,” Martin said. “He fought. That’s what Trae does.”
The Gamecocks tip off at Arkansas at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday.