Gamecocks set to return to action

It has been nearly a week and a half since the Gamecocks last took the court for their 72-48 win over Furman, so the team is anxious to face off against North Carolina Central Tuesday night at the Colonial Life Arena.

After such a long layoff, there is always some uncertainty as to how the team will perform when they finally get back on the court. The Gamecocks are not even sure what they have to guard against when the ball goes up.

"That's always a possibility [that the team comes out flat]," said Darrin Horn. "We've just got to try to harp on it and work hard."

"We might come out a little too hyped," said Zam Fredrick. "We might have to calm down after the first media timeout, but I hope we channel all our energy in a positive direction and hopefully we'll get out to a good lead."

The long awaited season debut of forward Sam Muldrow will have to wait at least another game. Muldrow was suspended for the first seven games of the season for unspecified academic issues, and will not play against NC Central because of a sprained left elbow. Once again, there is no timetable for his return, though Horn does not expect to have Muldrow back before Christmas.

"Because of the nature of the injury, our medical staff has been pretty clear that there isn't [a timetable]," he said.

Guard Brandis Raley-Ross could see his return to action Tuesday night. Raley-Ross suffered a left knee sprain near the end of the first half in the season opener and has not played since. He has returned to practice and there is a good chance he could play, but whether he suits up against the Eagles will be a game time decision.

"We're not going to play him if he's not full go," said Horn. "He's not having issues, but he's nowhere near where he was."

"I hope he learned from last year's experience when he tried to come back a little early," said Fredrick. "We're pushing him hard in practice. The first day in practice we came at him hard, telling him ‘We're gonna test that knee.'"

Last week, with Muldrow and Raley-Ross out, and Mitchell Carter missing time due to a death in the family, South Carolina did not have enough players to field two sides for 5 on 5 drills. The coaches had to fill out spots on the court, but Fredrick noted they did not really play basketball.

"Sometimes they just play offense and sometimes they just play defense; they don't go back and forth," Fredrick said of the coaches. "When they have to go up and down more than twice, you can see them blowing hard and breathing heavy, just not coaching and trying to catch their breath."

With or without Raley-Ross, the Gamecocks still know they will have strong play off the bench. Evka Baniulis is fourth on the team in scoring at 11.4 points per game, and is leading the SEC in points of the bench. Scoring has never been much of an issue for Baniulis, although he has more than doubled his per game scoring output from a year ago (5.4 ppg). The challenge has been to get something other than points from Baniulis, and this year he is doing that, pulling down 4.9 rebounds per game, third on the team. It would seem that Baniulis would have played himself into the starting lineup, but Horn was adamant that is not the case.

"You cannot earn your way into the starting lineup offensively," Horn stressed.

Horn pointed out that even though he does not start, Baniulis still gets starter's minutes, and he has to pick and choose how he uses Baniulis because he is a defensive liability. He is not a great athlete, which is one of the reasons he struggles defensively, but Horn thinks that with his size, Baniulis should be able to make up for his lack of quickness.

"Evka's not going to be as quick as Devan Downey, but he's 6'7"," Horn said. "He's buying a step that he lacks in athletic ability just because of his length."

Tipoff for Tuesday's game is scheduled for 8:03:30 (that's what it says for the official tip time). The game is the second half of a doubleheader with the women's team, who play USC Upstate at 5:30 (no word on whether they will tip at 5:30:27 or 5:30:42). The game will be televised on SportSouth.

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