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December 7, 2013
What we learned: Oklahoma State
1. Let Jaylen Shaw play.
Over the course of the summer I had the opportunity to watch Shaw closely, and no one developed more during the S.C. Pro Am league than Shaw. Facing older, more experienced guards (even Devan Downey), Shaw's confidence grew and grew.
Once he got to campus, he went through a family issue Frank Martin said Shaw may talk about once he's made available to the media after this semester is over (which is when freshman are allowed to speak to the media). It put him back a little, and taking the early minutes was fellow freshman Duane Notice.
A 3-for-23 shooting effort at Clemson from Notice, Brenton Williams and Ty Johnson, however, sent Martin looking to the bench for help, and after a strong week of practice Shaw saw the court and immediately improved the play of those around him. Showing both a fearless streak and a shooter's mentality, Shaw scored a career-high 16 points and dished five assists in the Gamecocks' comfortable 84-72 win.
A sub-par week of practice post-Thanksgiving, however, put Shaw farther down the bench, and it was only after the game was embarrassingly out of reach (OSU led by 30 with 10:45 to play in the second half) that Shaw came in and did what he does - impact the game offensively with a courage no other Gamecock seems to possess when it comes to perimeter shooting.
2. Sindarius Thornwell isn't comfortable yet.
Thornwell, without question the team's most-talented basketball player, had as many fouls (4) as points (7) against No. 9 Oklahoma State. On the road at Baylor, Thornwell was a force, appearing to accept the mantle of go-to guy with pride, finishing with 20 points and nearly tying the game on the final possession. At Clemson, he struggled to get into a rhythm and just got to 10 points in 31 minutes of play.
Returning home against FIU, Thornwell should have exploded offensively, but instead had a quiet 8 points - half of what Jaylen Shaw had off the bench. His 7 points against Oklahoma State don't bode well from a trend perspective right now. It's understandable for a freshman to be unsure of himself at times, especially when the weight of expectation is large, but just look at what Shaw is doing - not just points, but how he plays with energy and tenacity - and it makes you wonder how much better Thornwell could be doing if he played with the same intensity and confidence.
3. The Gamecocks will struggle inside all year.
With South Carolina's two forwards manned by true freshman Demetrius Henry (6-foot-9, and sophomore Mindaugas Kacinas (6-7), being undersized inside is going to be a fact of life. That both aren't strong doesn't help matters, neither does the fact that both seem more comfortable playing away from the basket than close to it, and when they do go inside and get tangled up, it's rare indeed that they come out on the better side of the issue.
At their best, Henry is an 8- to 14-point scorer good for about five rebounds a game, while Kacinas is a legitimate double-double threat and a persistent hard-working presence around the glass. That helps the team, but it does not afford the Gamecocks strength inside when other teams have powerful forwards at the four and five positions. They simply get pushed around and will continue to once league play begins, because while the Southeastern Conference isn't loaded with superb teams like some other leagues, one thing most of the upper-echelon teams have is a legitimate big man, which is precisely the kind of player who USC did not have an answer for all last season nor will it, it seems right now, this season.
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