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November 23, 2013

Hoops preview: FIU

Florida International (6-2) at South Carolina (1-2)
When: 1 p.m.
Where: Colonial Life Arena
TV: Fox Sports Carolinas/SportSouth
Series USC leads 1-0. The last meeting was a 110-72 on Feb. 16, 1985. The Gamecocks' 110 points in that contest ties for the 11th-most points in a single-game all-time for Carolina.

If South Carolina (1-2) thinks it can notch an easy win just by showing up today against Florida International (6-2), it has another thing coming.

No one knows this better than USC head coach Frank Martin - after all, he's an FIU alum, is friends with head coach Anthony Evans and has known some of their players since birth.

"They basically return their whole team and added Rakeem Buckles to a team that played in the conference championship game last year," Martin said. "They're good. They're a good team. They're athletic. They have a fifth-year senior at point guard in Ray Ray (Taylor). I've known Ray Ray since he was in diapers. I've known Rakeem since he was in diapers. They actually went to the same high school my oldest son is at.

"Rakeem is a fifth-year senior. Ray Ray is a fifth-year senior. Their leading scorer from last year (Tymell Murphy) is a senior. They have upperclassmen and a group of guys that they faced it all. It's not like they're not going to run and hide because they're facing a high major program."

For the Gamecocks, Martin said he'd like to see improved play from his point and shooting guards, who combined to go 3-for-23 against Clemson, even though some of the criticism they've taken has been unfair.

"The point guard, just like the quarterback, is always going to get blamed," Martin said. "When the quarterback throws a down-and-out and the receiver runs an in and it's intercepted for six, rarely do you hear somebody say the receiver ran the wrong route. It's always going to end up on the guy with the ball.

"Our point guard probably looked to the naked eye like he didn't play well (against Clemson). I think Ty defensively has to get a lot better, just like every other guard in our program. He's really trying to do what's right on offense. The guys off the ball for a month were great. Leading into the Clemson game, we got into standing around, jogging cuts, not setting screens. Don't ask me why, it just happens. That's why you have to rely on experience, and hopefully our guys learn from that. The problem is not the guy with the bell, it's the other four guys. And whenever Ty did pass it, he stood around, too.

"If there's no player movement, there's not going to be ball movement. And if there's not ball movement, you can't win."

Whether South Carolina can improve enough to beat an FIU team eager to log a signature win in Evans' first season as a head coach remains to be seen.

"They're going to play, and Anthony is going to demand that they play," Martin said. "That's who he is.

"I thought hiring Anthony was a home run for my alma mater. Anthony is big-time. He's about winning and doing things right. I'm extremely proud as an alum of the direction that's program is going. I expect it to be competitive and a heck of a game for us.

"It'll be fun."

Three keys to victory
The Mindy Project - Mindaugas Kacinas is coming off his first double-double of the season (and second of his career) Sunday against Clemson when he scored a team-high 13 points and grabbed a team-high 12 rebounds. With Sindarius Thornwell the only other Gamecock in double figures against the Tigers, it appears that Kacinas is one of the few players this season not only who has maintained the trust of the coaching staff but also is producing on the court. Kacinas doesn't lead by screaming at teammates or howling after plays, he just plays to the best of his ability, and so far that has meant leading the team and ranking sixth in the SEC with 9.3 rebounds per contest. His 4.3 offensive rebounds per contest are a team best and also rank tied for sixth in the league.

Shooters need to shoot - Why Brent Williams often appears scared to play college basketball is beyond me. He's a gifted shooter with above-average driving ability and a plus free-throw shooter. He's also a guy who will absolutely disappear for embarrassingly long stretches of games (0 points against Clemson in 19 minutes) and who can be a liability defensively. To add any value whatsoever to this team this year, Williams needs to shoot, because one, he physically can, as his 38 points against MSU last year attest, and two, because no one else besides Thornwell can or will.

Defend, defend, defend - Clemson shoved the Gamecocks around inside. Baylor beat USC to offensive rebounds and kicked them out for 3-pointers. In each game, South Carolina has experienced defensive letdowns, usually tied to offensive struggles. When South Carolina's offense is performing, it allows them to set their defense, extend the perimeter and be aggressive inside. When they take poor shots early in the possession, opponents are having great success exposing the Gamecocks' transition defense.

Notes: Nine Gamecocks played at least 10 minutes in the contest at Clemson, with five of those nine playing at least 20 minutes. Freshman guard Sindarius Thornwell and junior guard Tyrone Johnson currently lead the Gamecocks, playing 29.7 minutes per game each Following Sunday's contest vs. FIU, the Gamecocks will have a 12-day break before their next game, the Big 12/SEC Challenge matchup at No. 7/9 Oklahoma State on Dec. 6, in Stillwater, Okla. The Gamecocks lead the SEC in opponent field goal percentage. South Carolina opponents have hit just 34.2 percent of shot attempts this season. USC ranks second in the SEC in scoring defense, as Gamecock opponents are averaging just 60.3 points per game Among freshmen in the SEC, rookie guard Sindarius Thornwell ranks second in scoring with 14.7 points per contest (as of Nov. 22). Kentucky freshman Julius Randall ranks third overall in the league, scoring 20.8 points per game.

FIU Notes: FIU enters Sunday's game having already played eight games in this young season, playing its first eight games over a 14-day span to begin the year ... FIU is led by Anthony Evans in his first season in Miami after spending the previous six seasons as the head coach at Norfolk State ... FIU is led by redshirt-senior forward Rakeem Buckles, who paces the team with 15.8 points and 9.5 rebounds per game/4.0 offensive rebounds per game. Buckles posted a career high eight blocked shots in FIU's victory over Stetson on Nov. 18 and has recorded three 20-point games this season, including a career high 26 poinys vs. Warren Wilson on Nov. 12 ... Senior forward Tymell Murphy contributes 14.8 points per game and collects 9.1 rebounds per contest.

Probable starting lineup:
USC
10 Duane Notice 6-2 Fr. G (4 ppg., 3 reb.)
4 Tyrone Johnson 6-3 Jr. G (10.3 ppg. 3 reb.)
0 Sindarius Thornwell 6-5 Fr. G (14.7 ppg., 4 reb.)
21 Demetrius Henry 6-9 Fr. F (7.3 ppg., 5.7 reb.)
25 Mindaugas Kacinas 6-7 So. (7.7 ppg., 9.3 reb.)

Next game: USC travels to Stillwater, Oklahoma, to face Oklahoma State on Dec. 6.

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