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January 26, 2012

Hoops Extra: Crashing the boards



South Carolina prevailed over Alabama, 56-54, Wednesday night at Colonial Life Arena because they were able to overcome poor shooting (32.4 percent, 22-of-68) from the floor overall and three-point range (16.1 pct., 5-of-31) in two important ways.

First, they managed to grab 19 offensive rebounds, often outhustling the Crimson Tide to the loose basketball. It was the second-highest single game total for the Gamecocks in that category this season, surpassed only by the 20 offensive rebounds against Providence on Dec. 1.

USC came into Wednesday's game averaging 12.7 offensive rebounds per game, fourth best in the SEC, but topped the league in offensive rebound percentage. With 228 offensive rebounds compared to 361 defensive rebounds for the opponents, USC had an offensive rebound percentage of 38.7 percent. Six SEC teams are below 35 percent.

Wednesday, USC's offensive rebound percentage was an impressive 40.4 percent as their speed and athleticism bothered Alabama all night. The Gamecocks had 10 offensive rebounds in the first half, nine in the second.

"That (offensive rebounding) is something that is a strength for this team," USC head coach Darrin Horn said. "That's something that was a huge difference in the game tonight. We didn't shoot a good percentage, but we got almost 20 more shots than they did because of our effort on the offensive glass."

R.J. Slawson led the assault with six offensive rebounds, while Anthony Gill had four.

"When R.J. Slawson's mind is right and focused, he is as good an offensive rebounder as there is in this league," Horn said. "For him to grab six in this game is an absolutely huge number. So it was a really positive thing."

Second, USC turned the ball over just nine times, the fourth time this season USC has committed fewer than 10 turnovers in one contest. Bruce Ellington led the charge, turning the ball over just once in 31 minutes.

Since conference play started Jan. 7, Ellington has one or fewer turnovers in four of the five contests against SEC opponents. The lone exception? Last Saturday's 63-52 loss at Auburn when Ellington had five of USC's 23 turnovers.

"It was more of a mindset," Horn said. "When you're going up against a team that is obviously very good defensively, we had to go out and play our best and give ourselves a chance in the last five minutes. That's something we haven't done.

"You can't have 23 turnovers and expect to beat anybody unless you hit a bunch of threes."

By being active on the offensive glass and taking care of the basketball, USC attempted 19 more shots than Alabama. Because of Ellington's last-second drive to the basket, USC finished with one more field goal than the Tide, and it turned out to be the difference.

When the buzzer sounded, the tension inside the Colonial Life Arena evaporated.

"For us to come out and show the kind of fight and resiliency that we did really for 40 minutes, regardless of how we played, just the way we fought, I couldn't be prouder of our guys," Horn said. "I thought it was a total team effort. I know we haven't been real good, but it's unbelievable the effort we're getting. I don't think that has ever been in question."

Because of the poor shooting percentage, this one probably qualifies as an ugly win. In fact, USC trailed by just two points at halftime despite shooting a lowly 27.8 percent (10-36) in the first half. But Horn and the players are making no apologies.

"I don't know that it was pretty, but we made some progress and did some good things," Horn said. "We have to keep getting better.

UPTEMPO WORKS: Horn put together a game plan calling for USC to play more up-tempo offensive style against the taller, yet slower Crimson Tide. The strategy worked.

"We wanted to come out and be more aggressive offensively tonight," Horn said. "We wanted to run more and take some shots a little quicker than we've been taking them if they were good ones. I think we did that and I think that helped us have a good offensive rebounding night. Attacking and running, and maybe shooting some of those shots allowed us to do that."

THE ALABAMA PERSPECTIVE: Alabama suffered its fourth straight loss on Wednesday night, and head coach Anthony Grant sounded as frustrated as he's ever been with his ball club. The good vibes from starting the conference schedule with consecutive wins over Georgia and LSU have vanished in Tuscaloosa.

Moreover, Alabama's JaMychal Green was limited to 22 minutes because of an ankle injury. Green came in averaging 14.2 points and 7.0 rebounds per game. He finished with six points (less than half his average) and four rebounds.

Alabama was held 12.6 points below its seasonal average of 66.6 points per game.

"From my vantage point, we played a team in South Carolina tonight that played inspired basketball. They played as a team," Grant said. "We didn't. It's been an issue for us and it continues to plague us. We played an entitled brand of basketball and it's very frustrating as a coach. I have to self-evaluate what I'm doing. Winning doesn't feel like the priority it needs to be. We have to reevaluate what we're doing as a coaching staff."

NOTES:

-- Former Gamecock safety Darian Stewart attended Wednesday night's game. He is currently playing for the St. Louis Rams. Stewart had 84 tackles, 11 defended passes, one interception, three sacks, two forced fumbles and one touchdown on the season.

-- Has Horn handed the point guard reins to Ellington? Former starter Eric Smith didn't play a single minute in Wednesday's game. In fact, in the last three games, Smith has played two, one and zero minutes.

-- The score was tied 13 times and there were 11 lead changes in the game. The largest lead for either team was five points (5-0) when Alabama scored the opening five points of the game. But USC responded with a 9-0 run and the rest of the game was a back-and-forth affair. The largest lead for either team in the second half was four points (46-42 Gamecocks). The score was tied on seven occasions in the final 20 minutes.

-- Shooting guard Damien Leonard started his first game since Dec. 1 vs. Providence. He made just 2-of-11 shots in 30 minutes as he continued to struggle from the field. However, in USC's first four SEC games, he made 5-of-11 on 3-pointers, a number that convinced Horn to give him the start over Brian Richardson. "He didn't make a ton, but he made some big ones and he has been very good defensively," Horn said. "We were trying to change things up and find something that was working for us." Like Eric Smith, Richardson played zero minutes.

-- USC started the second half with a 6-1 run to take a 33-30 lead with 18:19 left. The positive start contrasts sharply with recent games when the Gamecocks have struggled coming out of the halftime locker room.

SEC SCORES/SCHEDULE (Jan. 24-26):
Vanderbilt 65, Tennessee 47 (1/24)
Kentucky 57, Georgia 44 (1/24)
USC 56, Alabama 54 (1/25)
Miss. State 76, LSU 71 (1/25)
Arkansas 56, Auburn 53 (1/25)
Florida at Ole Miss (1/26)

SEC STANDINGS: Kentucky 6-0, Vanderbilt 5-1, Florida 3-1, Miss. State 4-2, Ole Miss 3-2, Arkansas 3-2, LSU 2-4, Alabama 2-4, Auburn 2-4, USC 1-4, Tennessee 1-4, Georgia 1-5.

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D. McCallum


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