Young Gamecocks show growing maturation in first SEC win

South Carolina freshman Sindarius Thornwell is making an impact for the young Gamecocks. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)

Frank Martin watched his batch of underclassmen freeze on the basketball court two weeks ago at Texas A&M, uncertain and unable to handle success.

South Carolina got an early 11-point lead against the Aggies on Jan. 15. The Gamecocks didn't know how to manage it. Eventually, Texas A&M staged a comeback, and another winnable game slipped from USC's grasp.

"We got real passive," Martin said. "It was like, 'Oh, my God. I can't believe we've actually got a lead. What do we do here?'

"During segments of a game, I'm trying to run a play for a guy that's got it going or has a favorable matchup, and we were going into brain freeze and trying to run plays rather than playing. Unfortunately, that's what happens when you have young kids."

South Carolina landed in the same situation Wednesday night, against the same SEC opponent. The Gamecocks scored 10 points before the Aggies made their first field goal. They jumped out to an early 10-point lead at Colonial Life Arena before seeing the margin sliced to six.

This time, there was no panic, no "brain freeze" from the freshmen and sophomores. South Carolina responded with a dominant run, blew the game open by halftime and earned its first SEC win of the season, 80-52. Freshmen Sindarius Thornwell and Duane Notice had a game-high 19 points apiece.

"Today, we stayed aggressive," Martin said after the game Wednesday. "What I tried to do my last couple days was, I tried to go back to our roots, our basics and simplify everything we were doing offensively. . I think it helped us. I think our guys played freer, and the intensity was greater."

It was only one victory. Important, because as Martin said Wednesday, "nobody wants to be 0-6." Still, at 1-6 in the SEC, there remain more weaknesses than strengths.

Regardless, Wednesday night could be considered a necessary step for a growing team. Given the same environment that produced failure three weeks ago, South Carolina found success. The relevance wasn't lost on Martin.

"I've always been a big fan of - if somebody beats us, I can't wait to play them again," Martin said. "That's big for me. You beat us, that's all right. It happens. Well, I can't wait. I'll figure out what that date on the schedule is, and I'll be as in-tune as I ever am for that game.

"It just means our kids embraced the challenge. It means our kids are growing."

To revenge a previous loss against an opponent, it takes tweaks in the game plan. Learning from mistakes. Martin pounded that point home to his team before taking the court against Texas A&M. Brenton Williams - the team's lone senior - said it served as motivation.

Perhaps it's a sign of things to come?

Next up, South Carolina travels to Ole Miss on Saturday. It will be the second time the Gamecocks face the Rebels this season.

"We lost by (one point) in our building," Williams said of their first meeting. "So we're just going to come back to practice tomorrow and build on what we did in this game."