Before the season started, first-year head coach Lamont Paris cautioned fans that some days the South Carolina men’s basketball team might look like the Harlem Globetrotters and other days they might look like the Washington Generals.
Of late the Gamecocks have only looked like the Generals — the team that never wins.
In a Tuesday night battle against two bottom-dwelling SEC teams, the visiting Mississippi State Bulldogs (14-8, 2-7 SEC) overpowered a hapless Gamecocks team (8-14, 1-8) that can’t seem to string any sort of momentum together, beating USC 66-51.
The loss is USC’s sixth straight since a surprising win at Kentucky Jan. 10, and the team’s 1-8 SEC record is its worst since Frank Martin’s second season in 2014. The Gamecocks have started 1-8 in the SEC just three previous times since joining the conference.
Here’s what we learned from USC’s loss.
Battle on the glass
Matched up against a bigger Mississsippi State lineup, the Gamecocks had issues keeping up with the Bulldogs on the glass, especially on the defensive end of the court.
The Bulldogs built up their first-half lead in large part due to their prowess on the offensive glass, pulling down eight offensive rebounds and scoring 10 second-chance points off of them.
The 6-foot-11 senior forward Tolu Smith led the Bulldogs in rebounding, as he has throughout most of the season, posing a difficult matchup inside for the likes of USC big men Josh Gray and Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk.
Gray, who recently supplanted Bosmans-Verdonk as the team’s starting center, fared better on the boards than his teammate did, finishing with 14 rebounds. But the Bulldogs out-rebounded USC 33-27 for the game.
Neither the Gamecocks nor the Bulldogs are known for their offensive efficiency. Coming into the game, both ranked at the very bottom of the SEC in field-goal percentage and scoring average per game, with USC (39.6 FG%, 64.3 points per game) ranking 14th out of 14 teams in both and MSU just above the Gamecocks in both at No. 13.
Moreover, neither team plays at a particularly fast pace, with both ranking among the 50 lowest-tempo teams in the country per KenPom.com.
The result was a sluggish, low-scoring game where both teams frequently took the shot clock down to the final seconds. Add in MSU’s success on the offensive glass, and the Bulldogs were able to extend possessions and milk the clock as they built their second-half lead.
The little things
This USC team has shown a knack for making the simple look difficult. At times this season Paris has lamented the team’s inability to make what he calls “gimme” buckets, and the team struggled in that regard Tuesday.
The Gamecocks made just six of 17 layup attempts, according to Statbroadcast game data. Unable to finish at the rim — USC scored just 16 points in the paint — the Gamecocks leaned on deeper shots and didn’t have anywhere near the level of success they had shooting at Georgia. USC shot just 34% for the game, compared to 53% for MSU.
Taking care of the ball, another fundamental, has proven challenging for the Gamecocks this season. Much like UGA did in its Saturday win over the Gamecocks, MSU consistently converted USC’s turnovers on the other end, turning 18 USC turnovers into 21 points.
Next four USC MBB games
Saturday: Arkansas, 3:30 p.m. (SEC Network)
Feb. 7: at Missouri, 9 p.m. (SEC Network)
Feb. 11: at Ole Miss, 1 p.m. (SEC Network)
Feb. 14: vs. Vanderbilt, 6:30 p.m. (SEC Network)