After taking a nine day break, the South Carolina basketball team will return to the court Tuesday night when it hosts Presbyterian at the Colonial Life Arena. The Gamecocks are off to a 3-5 start, but entered exam week on a high note with a 58-55 victory over rival Clemson on its home court.
"After watching film I think you take some things from some of these games," head coach Darrin Horn said recently. "Obviously it's a very good win, it's a win over your rival at a time that I think was good for our team in a lot of ways. I think if you look at it, the biggest thing you could say is they fought, really competed, and stuck together and had a bunch of different guys stepping up and making important plays."
After trailing much of the game against the Tigers, the Gamecocks found themselves in a tied game with a minute and a half left to play. Horn called for a play that allowed freshman Anthony Gill to take a three point shot that he drained that would turn out to be the shot that gave the Gamecocks the win. It was a risky play by Horn, but one that paid off.
"We went in Friday after the Providence game and I told them we were not going to practice because you only go to the floor to get better and what we needed to get better at more than anything was mentally understanding how important it is for each of us to do our roles and what that means," Horn said. "Anthony, from day one, is that he has to be aggressive. We think he is that kind of impact player in a lot of ways and he did that (against Clemson). That big three that he hit was a designed play out of a timeout for him to get the ball and to be a player whether it was to hit an open three, drive the ball, or we had another wrinkle in it where he could make an entry pass. Those are the things that give him an opportunity to be a really good player and really help our team."
Down the stretch, it was a player that played just as big a role in the football team's third straight win as he did in the basketball team's second straight win over Clemson. Bruce Ellington drew the Gamecocks to within two points late in the game and then drained two free throws with 14 seconds left to keep Carolina ahead. It was Ellington's 49-yard touchdown reception that got the Gamecocks rolling its win over the Tigers in football the week before. On the court, Ellington finished with nine points and two assists in 23 minutes as he continues to shake off the rust.
"It's no different than anything else," Horn said. "As you do it a little bit more you get a little bit more comfort level and things are going to start feeling a little bit better. A lot of it is just him and feel. I know he commented to me in practice that he missed a little jump-stop shot in the lane that he's going to make that. I think that will come and he's done a terrific job of adjusting and continuing to work hard and spending a lot of time in the gym."
With the football team beginning to prepare for its January 2nd meeting with Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl Saturday, the basketball team will have four games during that stretch, including a meeting with Ohio State Saturday afternoon.
"We'll do what we've always done," Horn said. "We'll do what's in Bruce's best interest and work well to make sure he's as productive as possible in both sports. Football has been great about that and Coach (Spurrier) has been terrific with it and we're obviously going to do that as well."
When the Gamecocks take the court Tuesday night against the Blue Hose it will try to continue building some momentum from its win over Clemson after some bad losses early on. In the second game of the season, the Gamecocks went up to Elon and lost to the Phoenix 58-53 and followed that up five days later with a 64-63 loss to Tennessee State before struggling to beat Mississippi Valley State, 61-57, the next game.
"We had some time with finals week without a game approaching as quickly where we have an opportunity to spend some time getting better at some things that is going to be real important," Horn said. "Ultimately, learning to maintain or build upon what we saw Sunday in terms of the fight that we showed. From a basketball standpoint there's a lot of things we could do better. It's still early December and this is a team that is going to get better and I think that has been our focus as it has been from day one."
Of the five losses, only the game against top-ranked North Carolina was decided by more than 10 points. After losing four times by less than 10 points, the Gamecocks finally got a win over a quality opponent in a close game on the road.
"I saw what we're capable of," Horn said. "I think we have a team that's got some toughness, we have a team that has some character. As we continue to move forward we'll have some ups and downs because of our inexperience, but I think you saw a team that is going to fight."
When Carolina returns to the floor against the Blue Hose, it will be looking to improve on a defense that has allowed opponents to shoot just 41% from the floor, while improving an offense that is shooting just 43% through the first eight games.
"Defensively I think we saw what our defense is capable of doing and fine tuning it in terms of our overall team percentages and big stops, and at the same time we gave up a couple of really easy baskets late on lack of communication," Horn said. "Those kinds of things in general and making sure that we improve with our pressure as well. Offensively, continuing to understand that when the right guys take the right shots you're a lot better offensively. I think we took some steps towards that (last) Sunday."
South Carolina's next six contests will all be at the Colonial Life Arena before opening up conference play with a trip to Lexington to take on the Kentucky Wildcats.
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