With John Wall already anointed the best player in college basketball and John Calipari already being discussed as the best coach modern day college hoops coach, few considered the basketball mastery of Devan Downey nor the basketball IQ of the second year South Carolina Head Coach, Darrin Horn, entering Tuesday night's contest.
Kentucky was just recognized as the No. 1 team in the land following a 101-70 trouncing of Arkansas and South Carolina was recovering from a heartbreaking, buzzer-beating loss at the hands of Florida to set the stage for an anticipated Kentucky-dominated game for the kings of basketball from the Bluegrass State. Somebody forgot to tell Horn, Downey and Associates that they were supposed to lose.
Coach Horn, who is 3-0 against Kentucky since coming to USC, prepared the Gamecocks for another SEC game with emphasis on half court pressure, in-bounds challenges to Wall and Company -- taking away their rhythm -- ball control, possession management and the easy decision to leave the green light on for Downey to attack late in possessions, while his bigs attacked the offensive glass. ESPN tabbed this a 'Big Tuesday' game never realizing the monumental ending, USC 68 - Kentucky 62, for the 48 hour No. 1 ranking, an upset by most standards, was but just another big win in the early resume of Horn, Downey and Associates in less than two seasons.
Horn, who has been a genius in a season and a half in creating one of the most hostile environments for visiting teams, has trained his Garnet Army personally in the art of team support, energy creation and competitor distraction. The Garnet Army sets the tone for excitement, Horn's defensive pressure schemes generate opponent disruptions, while entertaining a supporting crowd that feeds off the Garnet Army's enthusiasm. The result is a basketball arena the we can honestly say is the "House That Horn Rebuilt".
If there was ever a time to believe in the Under Armour tag "Protect This House", Horn has established an 88% home winning percentage for his young career and it appears that he values his property. Horn has taken a team reduced by talent and experience with the loss of two key starters prior to conference play and has sold role playing, increased effort, team defense and confidence to a young squad under great floor leadership from the fearless Downey.
Horn recently said that he was not building a team but that he was building a program -- it appears he is well on his way. Even President Barack Obama tried to encourage the Calipari group that South Carolina wasn't a challenging venue to play, during his thank you call to the Wildcat team for their efforts in raising over $1.3Million for the Haiti Relief initiative.
Some of the key points to see in this game that makes his coaching and success a potential mystery to the novice fan or to a statistician:
In victory South Carolina shot 34.4% to 38.6% for Kentucky. Downey was only 9-29 in scoring his game high 30 points, with 3 assists of the team's meager 6 assists. DeMarcus Cousins was 9-17 scoring 27 points to go with his 12 rebounds. South Carolina shot 26.7% from the field in the first half.
So how did South Carolina win?
Aggressive defense often kept the ball early out of the hands of Wall. South Carolina attacked the guards, Wall and Eric Bledsoe, at the point of entry or outlet, they hindered their run-outs, they controlled the pace of the game and with Downey's weaving penetration he curled a left hand layup as the first half expired and the Wildcats were nursing a hard fought 29-26 lead.
Offensively, the Gamecocks kept the floor spread and ran a patient and deliberate offense. Often with time running down, Downey broke down the Kentucky defense and either made a shot or missed a shot that allowed the USC big men to collect 17 of 20 offensive rebounds, the remaining 3 went to Downey himself at 5'9". The defense caused 9 turnovers from the heralded freshman back-court of Wall and Bledsoe. Sam Muldrow, who collected 9 blocks against Kentucky last year in Columbia, was a human eraser again with 5 blocked shots.
While the game had its big moments with big shots it was the little things that mattered in the end. The USC pressure and defensive success did not allow Calipari to use much of his bench and when he did it was not for long. His starters were forced to play much longer than normal with four players playing more than 31 minutes for the Wildcats. South Carolina, supposedly thinner on the bench, was able to get more productive minutes from its bench. Kentucky received no points from its bench.
South Carolina was more efficient with the basketball, with only 11 turnovers, leading to 1 point for Kentucky. The Gamecocks also scored 7 points on 15 Wildcat turnovers. Kentucky, known for its highly potent offense, large roster, actually considered to be the tallest team in America, and its transition game, could only score 3 second chance points and scored a mere 5 points on fast-breaks.
South Carolina on the other hand had 16 second chance points. Muldrow's 9 pts/11 rebs/5 blks along with Bandis Raley-Ross' 17 pts/5 rebs was all the scoring support necessary, to go with the 13 pts scored by the remaining USC players, to complement the staff performance of Horn, Downey & Associates.
If you don't believe Horn is building a program, just ask the senior partners of national powerhouse known as Calipari, Wall, Cousins, Bledsoe and Patterson.
A former basketball player and coach with over a decade of national experience, who later founded player development programs before expanding his knowledge and experiences to media services and outlets, Duane "The Shot Doctor" Everett can be heard every weekday in Columbia as a host and analyst on ESPN Radio Columbia's "The Zone" on 93.1 FM from 3-6 p.m.
Other entries such as this one can be found on Everett's blog, "The Shot Doctor".
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