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November 11, 2013

Men's hoops preview: No. 25 Baylor

South Carolina (1-0) at No. 25 Baylor (1-0)
When: 3 p.m.
Where: Ferrell Center (10,284)
Tickets: BaylorBears.com
Series 2-2

The Gamecocks are coming off a comfortable 82-44 win over Big South foe Longwood, which is in the first year of a new coach after going 8-25 last year. No. 25 Baylor, the 2012 NIT champion, is coming off an impressive 72-60 win over Big 12 foe Colorado, which had been to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments for the first time in 50 years.

Advantage, Baylor. For now, at least.

In common for both team's openers was suffocating defense. The Gamecocks held the Lancers to a Colonial Life Arena record-low 22.8 percent shooting percentage from the field for the game, and Longwood's 44 points were the fewest allowed since SE Louisiana scored 43 on Dec. 21, 2011.

Offensively, the Gamecocks shot 62.5 percent from the floor in the second half of Saturday's game with Longwood, the best single-half mark since 2012, with USC shot 71.9 percent from the floor against Jacksonville. The final margin of victory - 38 points - was the largest since 2009, when the Gamecocks beat Alabama A&M 88-50.

Baylor brings seven letter-winners back from the NIT championship team, including two preseason All Big-12 players in senior forward Cory Jefferson and sophomore center Isaiah Austin. Against Colorado, Jefferson recorded his 12th career double-double, finishing with 13 points and 11 rebounds.

Three keys to victory:

Ty time - Cleared to play immediately in the season-opener against Longwood, Villanova transfer guard and top-50 national player Ty Johnson immediately contributed, scoring 18 points. Johnson, who played with forward Michael Carrera in high school where the two won an elite national tournament championship, brings a toughness, skill set and size (6-foot-3) the Gamecocks definitely can put to good use. Against Baylor and on the road, Johnson should be a steadying force for a roster full of freshmen.

Sin City - Another top-50 national player, freshman guard Sindarious Thornwell, has been impressive in spurts so far and scored 14 against the Lancers. For South Carolina to pull an upset, Thornwell will need to begin establishing himself as an offensive force capable of scoring off the drive or from the perimeter in order to allow the bigs around him a chance to shine. Should he be able to pull defenders toward the wing to guard him, it could open shots for fellow playmakers Carrera, Johnson, Brenton Williams and others.

Window World - For the Gamecocks to play to their as-yet-untapped potential, aggressive rebounding will be key. Fresh faces Demetrius Henry and Desmond Ringer need to be able to come in and partner with returning Lithuanians Mindaugas Kacinas and Laimonas Chatkevicius to give USC a presence it sorely missed last season. Head coach Frank Martin wants his squad to be fearless defensively, and the Baylor game offers a prime opportunity to showcase that effort.

Notes: South Carolina head coach Frank Martin owns a 4-4 all-time record against Baylor, having played the Bears several times during his time as the head coach at Kansas State. In games played in Waco, Martin owns a 2-1 record South Carolina's appearance in the College Hoops Marathon is its first in the event since the 2010-11 season when the Gamecocks traveled to then-No. 2 Michigan State on Nov. 16, 2010. Then-freshman Bruce Ellington scored 22 points in the contest, but the Spartans edged out the Gamecocks in East Lansing, 82-73 South Carolina won just two away contests combined during the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons. The Gamecocks look for their first non-conference road win since a 58-55 win at Clemson on Dec. 4, 2011 Carolina averaged 58.9 points per game in away games last season. Carrera and Williams both averaged 9.7 points in away contests a year ago. Probable starting lineups:

10 Duane Notice 5-11 Sr. G
4 Ty Johnson 6-3 Jr. G
0 Sindarius Thornwell 6-5 Fr. G
24 Michael Carrera 6-5 So. F
21 Demetrius Henry 6-9 Fr. F

1 Kenny Chery 5-11 Jr. G
4 Gary Franklin 6-2 Sr. G
24 Ish Wainright 6-5 Fr. G/F
34 Cory Jefferson 6-9 Fr. F
21 Isaiah Austin 7-1 So. C

Next game: USC plays at Clemson on Sunday at 5 p.m.

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