COLONIAL LIFE ARENA: It’s been a rollercoaster ride for the Gamecocks in Lamont Paris’ first season. The “highs” of beating rival Clemson and snapping Kentucky’s 28-game home winning streak countered by the “lows” of lackluster efforts and blowout losses. You can put Saturday’s 94-53 loss to Texas A&M firmly in the “lows” category.
USC (8-9, 1-3) was never in the game, falling behind 50-18 by halftime. The Aggies dominated in every statistical category, crashing the boards for a 48-16 rebound advantage and a 27-7 edge in second-chance points. The Gamecocks were also clearly out of sorts offensively, shooting just 29% in the first half and 38% for the game.
A week after suffering the worst home defeat in the history of the Colonial Life Arena at the hands of Tennessee, South Carolina nearly sunk to new depths, trailing by as many as 46 in the second half. What makes this loss so confounding, however, is that it comes just four days after USC stunned Kentucky at Rupp Arena. In one of the most storied venues in all of college sports, the Gamecocks proved to be the aggressor, hustling to loose balls and outmuscling the Wildcats for rebounds. None of that was on display in either half against the Aggies (12-5, 4-0).
Despite Texas A&M’s commanding lead, Buzz Williams’ group came out of the locker room with renewed vigor, executing his offensive sets flawlessly and hitting on nine straight shots to open the second half. Aggies forward Julius Marble entered the game as the reigning SEC Player of the Week following standout performances against LSU and Florida. The 6-9 junior transfer picked up right where he left off with 14 points (13 in the first half), Saturday. It was especially difficult for the Gamecocks to contain Marble without the services of forward Hayden Brown, who missed the game due to a thigh bruise. Zachary Davis got the start in Brown’s absence and led the team with 13 points on 4 of 6 shooting.
In his postgame comments, Paris pointed to his team’s struggle with physicality, “That’s been part of our kryptonite. If I look at the teams that we’ve had lopsided losses to, there’s a lot of physicality and aggression. The teams we have lost to by 20+ points are teams that are tough. They’re tough, gritty guys.”
Paris also updated Brown’s status, “He has a thigh bruise. He took a knee to the thigh in practice. He went through shootaround. Sometimes, they take a little while. Hopefully, he’ll be back sooner rather than later.”
After starting the season with six straight home wins, USC has dropped the last two at the Colonial Life Arena by a combined 84 points. If it’s true that every loss is a learning experience, Paris’ next film session should be a graduate level course.
South Carolina will next play host to Ole Miss (8-9, 0-5), Tuesday. Tipoff between the Gamecocks and the Rebels is set for 6:30 p.m.