Basketball team turns attention to Princeton

For the first time this season, the Gamecocks (4-1) ventured out onto the road last Friday against College of Charleston, and also suffered their first defeat of the year. There is no rest for the weary, however, as Carolina must turn around and try to regroup from the loss with another challenging road trip. This time it is a much longer trip to New Jersey to take on the Princeton Tigers (2-2).

The Tigers lead the all-time series against the Gamecocks 3-2, but South Carolina won the last game between the two schools 54-48 in 2006 in Columbia. That game began a home and home series that will conclude with the Gamecocks' visit to Princeton. Scheduling consecutive road games this early in the season, especially against quality opponents like the Cougars and the Tigers, is not ideal, but Darrin Horn did not have much choice in the matter.

"We probably never would have scheduled these games back-to-back had we had a choice," he admitted. "At the same time, I think this is the kind of challenge that we need coming off the game that we had Friday."

The Tigers of course are known for running the famed "Princeton Offense." In that system, a team slows the pace of the game and looks to get points in the half court using motion, screens, back door cuts, and crisp passing. Combined with smart decision-making and solid shooting from all positions, the offense allows Princeton to compete against bigger, more athletic teams. Even when the offense is at its best, Princeton wants to see scores in the 50s or 60s in keeping with its average of 59.0 points per game this season, a start contrast to Carolina, which is averaging 83.0 points per game. The contrast in styles is not going to cause Horn to make drastic changes in what the Gamecocks try to do, but he will tweak his focus.

"We're going to do what we do," he said. "Are some things going to be more important because of how they play? Sure."

Over the four wins to open the season, the Gamecocks had attempted one more free throw than their opponents. That changed against College of Charleston, who attempted 23 free throws to Carolina's 13. The Cougars attempted seven free throws in the overtime period, and made six to score all of their points in the period. As a jump-shooting team, the Gamecocks are not going to shoot a lot of free throws, but Horn still wants to close the gap, and that could come against a Princeton team that is attempting just 12 free throws a game.

"[The Cougars] were the more aggressive team, so that's how it's going to go," said Horn. "We've got to hopefully get to the line more and maybe keep them off the line. To some degree you expect that on the road. With all of those things, if you guard and rebound and take care of the ball the way we needed to, you still have an opportunity to win the game."

One does not usually think of Princeton as being a power team, but this year the Tigers have considerable interior strength. The starting lineup includes 6'10" center Pawel Buczak, and 6'8" Kareem Maddox and 6'7" Patrick Saunders at forward. There are another four players 6'6" or taller on the bench, while the Gamecocks have only one player over 6'8", little used Mitchell Carter. Like Carolina, Princeton is grabbing about seven more rebounds per game than their opponents, and physically, the Tigers resemble the Cougars with their size and depth.

"In terms of playing a lot of guys, in terms of having some big guys that can step out and do some things, yes [they are similar]," Horn said, "but in terms of how they play, they are very different basketball teams."

Carolina could certainly benefit from the presence of 6'9" forward Sam Muldrow, but Muldrow has yet to play this season with "academic issues." Officially, Horn has said only that Muldrow is suspended game by game until the issues are resolved. It was rumored that Muldrow is actually ineligible for the semester, and would return after the fall semester ended, in time for the December 16 game against North Carolina Central. On Monday, Horn stopped short of saying that was the case, but did indicate Muldrow could be back for that game.

"We told you when we knew something on Sam we would let you know," he said. "At this point in time it does not look like he's going to be available to us until at least the end of the semester. At what point after that, I don't know the answer to that. Hopefully soon after that, but we don't know."

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