COLUMBIA — Frank Martin called for a big crowd for Tuesday’s home game against No. 14 Mississippi State, despite the 9 p.m. tip.
Perhaps a freebie for fans would help. Especially if that freebie is nitro pills.
South Carolina has played three SEC games between its men and women in the very early new year and won them all. They’ve come by a combined eight points over a stretch of four days.
The men have 18 more regular-season games, the women 15. If this is going to be the norm, perhaps complimentary cardio workouts can be USC’s next great marketing idea.
Martin’s known for his emotion on the sideline, but as a coach he had to remain calm while his fan base was losing its collective mind. The Gamecocks' Felipe Haase dialed a baseball pass to Chris Silva, who took a step behind the defense that lost him and dunked for an incredible 71-69 win at Florida Saturday.
“You have to. You’re always worried about the next play,” he said. “Once I see Chris dunking the ball, my mindset is two things: Next play, and make sure that no one on our bench is running on the court.”
The men came from 14 down in the second half to win, scoring the go-ahead points on a play too perfect to dream about. Consider that Haase was not supposed to be the guy throwing it (Maik Kotsar said his shoulder hurt and he couldn’t do it), that he’d never practiced it, that even now he’s not quite sure who Grant Hill and Christian Laettner are, and that in its history the USC men’s basketball has discovered ways to lose that many didn’t know existed.
Everybody knew that ball would hit the scoreboard or fly out of bounds, giving the Gators the ball under their own basket in a tie game. Yet it was truer than a mother’s love to Silva, who caught, turned and jammed.
“Never played football, either,” Haase said. “Saw Chris with both hands up, thought if I throw it over both defenders, he’ll catch it. I just focused on that, and it was on point.”
Bookending the men’s game was the USC women’s team starting its SEC schedule with back-to-back wins. The Gamecocks fought back from an early deficit to beat Texas A&M, 60-57, Thursday, then squandered a lead, hit a go-ahead shot with less than a minute to play and played sterling defense to beat Alabama, 62-59, Sunday.
“I think it’s just important for morale for us to win basketball games, especially win close ones,” coach Dawn Staley said before the Alabama game, foreshadowing what would happen. “Especially to steal a couple of wins on the road and then take care of home.”
Her Gamecocks will take on Florida Thursday while Martin’s men host No. 14 Mississippi State on Tuesday. No reason to think the thrills will stop.