South Carolina (10-5, 1-0 SEC) head coach Darrin Horn has had some trouble getting his Gamecocks into a rhythm this season.
Two of Horn’s top scoring threats, forwards Dominique Archie and Mike Holmes, started the season red-hot before falling out of the picture.
On Nov. 22, just five games into his senior campaign, Archie suffered a season-ending knee injury. Holmes, who had not played a game since Nov. 27 after he broke a bone near his left eye, was dismissed by Horn on Jan. 1 for repeatedly violating team rules.
As a result, Horn has been forced to test a little of everything to find a winning mix. Currently, eight Gamecocks are averaging over 12 minutes of action per game.
“Dominique Archie, in my mind, was one of the best players in this league,” said LSU head coach Trent Johnson. “The suspension of Holmes [was crucial], who was a big part of what they do.
“What Coach Horn has done is pretty impressive.”
Evidenced by the Gamecocks’ 80-71 defeat of Auburn last Saturday, South Carolina will put their hopes on the shoulders of senior guard Devan Downey – who scored 33 points behind an 11-for-23 night shooting from the floor.
“We all know Devan Downey is pretty special,” Johnson said. “The thing that is impressive to me about him is that he is so much more efficient than he was last year in terms of letting things develop and happen, and he is still scoring a lot of points and getting a lot of steals.”
Downey, who averaged 11.9 points a game during his freshman season at Cincinnati, sat out the 2006-2007 season after deciding to return home for college ball.
In the three seasons since, the 5-foot-9, 175-pound Chester, S.C. native has maintained a scoring average of over 18 points a game.
“You can't simulate his quickness,” Johnson said. “I think he is one of the best point guards in the country.”
With defense-first guards like Garrett Temple a thing of the past, the Tigers will rely on younger talents and a change in Johnson’s typical defensive philosophy to lockdown the Gamecocks’ best scorer.
“We are going to use Chris Bass and Bo Spencer,” Johnson said. “We are also going to be working in the zone, which we have been practicing since day one, because we knew it was going to come to a point in time where we were going to have to use it.”
Without a road win marked down on the season’s schedule, the Tigers are searching for answers on their trip to the East Coast. Coming up with a win, Johnson said, would mean that his squad got back to perfecting the basic ins and outs of the game.
"South Carolina poses a little bit of the same problems as McNeese and Alabama did in terms of intensity and full court presses,” he said. “They want to turn you over and speed the game up to force you to make decisions.
"It is continuing to understand and teach what we have to do individually and collectively to get better,” he added. “That gives us a chance to win. I knew going into the season that our inability to pass and catch, our inability to do those little things and compete at a high level on defense was going to hurt us. Now that it has started happening, they understand why.”