Gamecocks ready for Old Spice Classic

On Thanksgiving Day, some time after you start hovering around the kitchen to find out just when the food will finally be ready, but still before you get to actually sit down and eat, the Gamecocks will tip off the Old Spice Classic in Orlando against Penn State.


The tournament is the centerpiece to a challenging two week stretch of basketball for South Carolina that began with last weekend's loss to Southern Cal, includes the annual grudge match against Clemson, and ends on December 6 against Providence. The Old Spice Classic boasts a talented field that, in addition to the Gamecocks and Nittany Lions, includes Central Florida, George Mason, North Carolina State, Kansas State, Villanova, and Rider.

"When I signed up for the Orlando tournament two years ago, I thought it was going to be Winkin', Blinkin', and Nod," said Dave Odom, "or somebody down there that we'd be able to just go down and relax three days and win three games and come home. It has turned out to be anything but that. We've got a really good field waiting on us."

Carolina is looking to improve on its performance against the Trojans, the first loss of the year for the Gamecocks. In that game, Carolina struggled running plays in the half court. With that in mind, Odom had the team work on running set plays in practice, and hopes to put that work to the test in Orlando. Despite running more plays, though, he does not want to take away from the open court playmaking ability of Devan Downey.

"You can run set offense in full court," Odom said. "That's what we want to do, rather than just freelancing in the full court. I think [Downey] liked what we did the last two days. The whole thing is to clear out the middle so that he has room to penetrate. It doesn't mean walk the ball up the court."

The three games will also serve as something of a coming-of-age moment for Carolina's freshmen, primarily Mike Holmes and Sam Muldrow. Both players have shown flashes of talent, but have also struggled at times. Holmes, in particular, has struggled with foul trouble.

"I thought they looked very young," said Odom. "They basically know what they look like, so now their confidence has been eroded somewhat. We all know they're going to be good players."

Holmes also showed a tendency to float away from the basket against Southern Cal, the first opponent he faced that could match his size and strength. At the start of the game, he took and made a long jumper from about 17 feet, and he seemed to be looking to get that shot again over the course of the game. On a team with few post players and a glut of wing players, Holmes is desperately needed to man the paint, even though his ability to hit the spot up jump shot is an asset.

"The jump shot that he hit right at the beginning of the game you could probably describe as fool's gold," Odom said. "It's not a kind of shot that we're going to win 20 basketball games with him shooting."

If the Gamecocks defeat Penn State, they would play the winner of the N.C. State-Rider game on Friday. The winner of that game would play in the championship game on Saturday. If Carolina loses, they would play the loser of the same game. Each team plays three games in three days regardless of the outcomes.

South Carolina and Penn State will tip off at noon on Thursday. The game will be televised nationally by ESPN2.


Notes:

- Sophomore guard Branids Raley-Ross is from the heart of ACC country, Charlotte, NC, so he is excited about the possibility of playing N.C. State in the second round. "I have two or three friends that play for N.C. State, so it would be fun."

- Devan Downey, who normally loves talking with the press, declined to speak before the team left for Orlando, saying he is taking some time off from talking.

- Forward Dominique Archie, who put up modest numbers in the first two games and then had 20 points and 7 boards against Southern Cal, had an interesting reason for the breakout. "If there's a lot of help [from teammates playing well], I kind of slack off. I realized that that wasn't helping the team, so I just wanted to up my game."


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