South Carolina plays its final Southeastern Conference home game of the season Wednesday night against Mississippi State, which was the Gamecocks’ first league opponent of the year.
One of the big reasons USC lost 56-54 in the SEC opener was turnovers. The Gamecocks had 24 of them that night. That is still their second-most of the season (behind 25 in a win over Missouri State) and their most in SEC play.
They had done a better job of taking care of the ball after their first seven league games. Limiting turnovers is paramount for a team like USC that struggles to shoot and, thus, has a thin margin for error on offense.
The Gamecocks shot 29.2 percent in the second half of Saturday’s 74-56 loss at Texas A&M – a game that was tied at 32 at halftime. In SEC play this season, they rank last in the league with a field goal percentage of 37.7.
Of course, USC is second-to-last in the league with a field goal percentage defense of 45.9, ahead of Mississippi State’s 46.7. The Bulldogs are one spot ahead of the Gamecocks in field goal percentage, at 38.6 percent.
Regardless of what happens Wednesday, USC (13-16, 3-13 SEC) will have a losing regular season for the fourth straight year. In order to avoid a fourth straight losing overall record, USC has to beat Mississippi State and win at Vanderbilt in Saturday’s regular season finale, then go 2-1 in the SEC tournament. That would get the Gamecocks to 17-17. It’s a tall order. Of course, there are other ways for USC to get to .500, but that’s the easiest to explain.
The Gamecocks botched the Texas A&M game in the second half largely because of turnovers. Consider that they trailed just 40-36 with 9:52 left. From that point until the 6:31 mark, they had six turnovers. And like that, they were down 53-39. Game over. USC finished the game with 17 turnovers. It was just the third time in the past nine games that USC had 15-plus turnovers, after doing it five times in the first seven SEC games.
Here are the raw numbers …
Mississippi State … 24
Auburn … 15
*LSU … 15
Vanderbilt … 7
Missouri … 13
*Arkansas … 18
Florida … 17
Georgia … 10
Kentucky … 10
Tennessee … 13
LSU … 12
Alabama … 20
*Mississippi … 10
Georgia … 16
Missouri … 10
Texas A&M … 17
As you can see, USC has won when turning the ball over 15-plus times this season – twice, in fact. And there different types of turnovers, as USC coach Frank Martin notes. Lately, he said, USC has gotten back into the habit of having too many bad turnovers.
“You can’t win on the road if you miss shots,” Martin said. “(Texas A&M’s) Elston Turner, we did a pretty good job on him and then we missed shots and when he had open shots, he made his. What I was unhappy about in that segment of the game were the bad turnovers that we had. We weren’t making some shots. We had missed some opportunities to maybe build a lead a little bit. But then we went through a stretch where we just had like bad turnovers. Bad turnovers are hard to overcome.
“You can overcome a guy trying to drive the lane, make a play, get called for a charge. Or we’re running and we try to make an advance pass to a guy that’s cutting and we just quite don’t make it good enough and it goes out of bounds. You can overcome those. Those are good, aggressive plays. But when you pass the ball from the point to the wing and you throw it to the defense and they go down and dunk, it’s hard to overcome those turnovers. And we went through a stretch in the second half that that’s what we had. They built a lead and then we just couldn’t make a shot. You’ve got to score. You shoot 20 percent from the field – 28 or something, I think we shot in the second half – that’s hard to overcome in league play.
“We got a lot better (with turnovers after the early SEC games). Early in the year, we turned that thing over every other play and it’s hard to have any consistency and be any good (when you’re) doing that. We’ve gotten better at it. We’ve had stretches during games (recently) where we’ve had the bad turnover again. We had eliminated those. Unfortunately, we’ve had them again. It’s something we talk about and something we’ve got to get away from. Whenever you have the ball, you have to make decisions and the game is played so fast that decision making is a huge part of the game.
“If you have an aggressive play, and I use football and being a quarterback all the time as a reference, and when he sees what he thinks is the throw (while under pressure), he’s got to have the courage to make the throw. Sometimes, the throw is not quite where it needs to be and it’s incomplete or it’s intercepted or whatever. But you’ve got to have the courage to go make the play. When you’re in that moment (in a basketball game), that means you’re driving the ball or you just see a play that you think you’ve got to go make, and you don’t complete it, well, you’ve got to live with it. You need the kid to have the confidence that he needs to do that.
“That’s not a problem for our team. Our problem is we just dribble it off our foot and we try to pass it to the wing and we throw it to a guy that’s defended. We kill our dribble in bad places on the floor. That’s the problem that we have. We had gotten away from it, and here as of late, we don’t do it as much. But we do it like four out of six possessions. That’s eight free points we’re giving the other team.”