Gamecocks ready for clash with USC Upstate
"We have an awful lot of [in-state opponents] this year," said Darrin Horn. "I think that is something we'll look to do over a period of time."
The Spartans are in just their second season of Division I play after a successful run in Division II. Coach Eddie Payne, a South Carolina assistant from 1986-1991 under George Felton, led the Spartans to the NCAA Tournament twice, as well as back to back Peach Belt Conference championships. In their first year of Division I play, Upstate went 7-23 while playing a schedule rated the 18th toughest in the nation. This year, the Spartans have started out 0-2 with blowout losses at Georgia and #9 Notre Dame. They were not pushovers in either game, however, outrebounding the Bulldogs 40-31 and leading the Irish midway through the first half and trailing by just 11 at halftime.
"They're a skilled team; they've got some guys that can shoot it and put it on the floor," Horn said. "I think you're going to get a team that's well-coached. The two they've been in were both really good games in the first half. I think they're going to come in well prepared and ready to play."
The Spartans also feature probably the tallest player the Gamecocks will face this season in 7'3" center Nick Schneiders. The native of Germany is putting up solid numbers in his junior season, averaging 8.5 points and rebounds along with two blocks in the first two games. Outside of Schneiders, Upstate does not have anyone over 6'7", but that does not make him any easier to deal with.
"Obviously, [7'3"], it's hard to teach that," said Horn. "I've been trying for 16 years and haven't been able to do that."
For the Gamecocks, they are continuing to learn how to play under the new system being installed by Horn. They were impressive in an 86-63 win over perennial NCAA Tournament team Winthrop, jumping out to a 19-0 lead and never letting up. Another 19-0 start may be too much to ask, but Horn likes the energy shown by his team.
"We want to see great intensity and effort on the defensive end," he said. "Offensively we want a little bit more progress in understanding the kind of shots we want and how to get them, and to continue to make progress in everything we do. The nuts and bolts and some of the X's and O's will continue to be tweaked. The core of [my system] is in."
Despite the promising start and the enthusiasm from fans surrounding Horn's first season, attendance at games has been disappointing. Attendance was listed at only 11,439 for the season opener against Jacksonville State, and the attendance against Winthrop was just 7,231. As always, those figures represent tickets sold, not the actual number of people at the game, which is noticeably lower, enough so that a group of Winthrop students chanted "empty seats" at the Gamecock fans and, um, seats. While the numbers are not there, Horn is still pleased with the enthusiasm shown by those who are there.
"We've been pleased with it, in terms of the ones that are here and are into it," he said. "The atmosphere has been good. I think the most important thing is the student turnout. They've been into the games, and we still think that is the most crucial component."
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