Frank Martin did not mince words about his frustration after South Carolina’s 66-61 loss today to Tennessee – the Gamecocks’ fourth straight defeat since beating Arkansas by 21 points.
USC is now 2-8 in Southeastern Conference play with eight games remaining, stuck on the same number of league wins it had last season (2-14).
The Gamecocks were better defensively today, as Tennessee shot 43.9 percent, compared to the 61.4, 58.1 and 52.8 that USC allowed in its previous three games. But the Gamecocks again could not crack 40 percent on the offensive end, as they shot 39.2 percent. Six times in the past seven games now, USC has shot worse than 40 percent.
USC led by two with 3:46 left today, then immediately gave up a 3-pointer, and Tennessee led the rest of the way. The game was essentially over on Tennessee’s next possession, when the Volunteers got an offensive board by Jarnell Stokes to sustain a possession that ended with another 3-pointer, and a four-point lead for the Volunteers with 2:17 left.
“Different day, same book,” Martin said. “Different title, same book. Somehow, some way you’ve got to keep fighting and put yourself in a place where you’ve got a chance to win. And when you’re in that moment, eventually you’ve got to find the courage and the determination and the discipline to make the plays that you need to make to win these kind of games.”
“I don’t know what to tell you about our offense. It’s embarrassing. I had junior varsity teams that ran better offense than we run. Everyone stands around. The ball sticks. We practice every day running (in transition). We don’t run. I don’t know what to tell you.
“Passing is a problem on our team. If you can’t pass, you can’t be a good offensive team, and passing is a problem on our team. Whenever you interview the players, ask them how many plays I’m calling. I’m not calling a whole lot of plays because I don’t want them bogged down. I’m trying to play really simplistic through our base offense, and we can’t even do that right now. It’s frustrating as a coach because we put in the time and we practice and now you’ve got to go out in a game and do it. Any time we face any resistance, we give in, and that’s a problem and that has to change.”
Michael Carrera played intensely on defense against the broad-shouldered Stokes for most of the day, but Stokes fought off three USC players on that possession with 2:17 left to grab an offensive board. Martin said it’s not a legit excuse that Carrera was playing against a bigger guy.
“Who cares? Ray Lewis played with a torn triceps and won a Super Bowl. Winners make plays. I don’t care what you did for 38 minutes. If we want to win, you’ve got to go get that rebound. It’s not that we just gave up the first one and then they milked the clock to the end, took another bad shot and got another offensive rebound. And then instead of getting mad and saying, ‘you know what, it’s only a one-point game, let’s buckle in here,’ we just stood around and gave them a wide-open 3 to make it a four-point game. That’s why they won. Stokes went against three guys and I didn’t see him fall down. I don’t care how big you are. I don’t care how little you are. Guys make plays when it’s time to make plays. He made a play. Our guys didn’t.
“Our zone was pretty good. I’ve been unhappy with our defense here for about two weeks and today our defense was halfway decent. (Skylar) McBee hadn’t made a shot all game and we lose him one time (with 2:17 left) and give them credit, we lost him one time and they found him. We’re late on rotation and he made a 3.
“We were up two, and then two possessions later, we’re lazy. They threw a long pass and we’ve got to get them off the line. We got them off the line when we were down six. We got them off the line when we were down four. We got them off the line when it was a tie game. Now it’s crunch time and you’ve got to get them off the line.
“I don’t know if you understand what I mean by ‘getting them off the line.’ You can’t let them stand there and shoot it. Our guys just jogged out there (to the perimeter) and (McBee) did what upperclassmen that believe they’re going to win do. Credit him. He didn’t have a lot of looks and when he got them at the end, he made them.”
Martin didn’t want to talk about why he didn’t play Brenton Williams or Laimonas Chatkevicius.
“Do you feel like I should have played them?” he said.
He was more open when asked about his team’s biggest liability right now.
“Courage. We’ve got to find courage. We’re in the same boat. Played 10 league games. Florida embarrassed us. Kentucky treated us like a redheaded step child. Against Arkansas, we actually shot 58 percent from the field so we built a lead. But the other (six) games, it’s been the same scenario – a one-possession game going into the last two minutes of the game, and we’ve got to find the courage to make the plays at the end of the game and right now, we don’t have it. Somehow, some way, we’ve got to find it.”
USC is 1-5 in those other six games that Martin mentioned, with its only win coming in overtime at LSU, which visits USC on Thursday.
As for his message to the players, Martin said, “The night is always darkest before the sun comes up, and if any of them are going to show up with their heads between their legs, they need to turn their stuff in and leave. We didn’t show up here to run a 50-yard dash. We’re into working every single day. I can sit back and say ‘I don’t like our record’ or I can sit on the other side and say, ‘We’re right there. Who cares what our record is?’ You can’t sprint while you’re in a crib. Right now, we’re in a crib. We’re acting like little kids, and we’ve got the discipline of little kids.
“To become a man, you’ve got to go through these kind of things. And if you’re going to run away when the night is darkest, then I don’t want you around when that sun comes up. That’s basically going to be my message to them. It is every single day. Winning is hard. It’s not easy. But with winning comes tremendous responsibility, because now that means you’ve got to do your job every single day. Now your teammates expect you to be who you are every day, not just every once in a while. That’s something we’ve got to learn.
“I’m the eternal optimist. If every game we played was like the Florida game (a 39-point loss), I’d probably be calling people back in Florida to see if they need a real estate agent somewhere, because that means that we’re too far away and I’m probably not going to be able to get this thing done. But knowing that in seven of the 10 (SEC games), with two minutes to go, we’ve had a chance to win the game, that tells me it’s right there. It’s right there.
As a side note, the Georgia game wasn’t a one-possession game with two minutes left, but USC still had a chance to win it.
“Get up, do your job a little bit better. Be a little more committed, a little more disciplined, a little tougher, a little stronger, so when you’ve got a chance to go make a play … we’re up two and get a stop, get a stop, get a stop, get the ball back and have a chance to run some clock off, get a shot, maybe build your lead a little bit, and then put the pressure on them. Instead, we go down, we get lazy, we give up an open 3, now you’re down again. Then the rest of the game, we play with our heads hanging instead of our heads held high and when you do that, you usually get the medicine you need for losing.”