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January 3, 2014

Hoops preview: S.C. State



S.C. State (4-8) vs. South Carolina (6-6)
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Colonial Life Arena (18,000)
TV: Fox Sports Carolinas/SportSouth
Series: South Carolina leads 19-0.
Last meeting: South Carolina defeated S.C. State 80-69 on Jan. 5, 2013 in Colonial Life Arena.

Winners of three straight games and four of their last five, the Gamecocks are undoubtedly playing their best basketball of the season. After winning just two of its first seven games, South Carolina found its stride over the holidays at the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii and has continued to build momentum as it prepares for the start of conference play.

The Gamecocks resemble a well-oiled machine on offense of late, and are playing gritty, hard-nosed defense to boot. South Carolina throttled Marshall last time out, with four players -- Brenton Williams, Tyrone Johnson, Duane Notice and Demetrius Henry -- scoring in double figures to spark the Gamecocks to the 92-65 victory.

The Gamecocks will look to continue that success against an S.C. State team that has won two of its last three games. The Bulldogs and Gamecocks have two previous opponents in common, with S.C. State suffering a 85-69 loss to Marshall in the first game of the season and a 65-49 loss to Clemson on Dec. 3. All eight of S.C. State's losses have come by 14 points or more, with two of them decided by 32 points or more. The Bulldogs are 1-6 on the road this season.

Three keys to victory

LET WILLIAMS EAT. Brenton Williams has been South Carolina's hottest hand of late, shooting 50 percent from the field and averaging 18 points per game since taking over for Johnson in the starting lineup three games ago. The senior guard attributes his increase in production to a change in his mentality, and he now makes a conscious effort to play aggressively and make his mark on each game. If his teammates can continue to set him up with open looks, Williams will light up the scoring column.

MAINTAIN INTENSITY. Much of South Carolina's recent success can be attributed to the Gamecocks' willingness to pressure opposing ball-handlers, to fight for putbacks and rebounds under the basket and to out-hustle the opponent. The team, especially freshman guard Notice and sophomore forward Michael Carrera, has shown focus and attention to detail on defense of late, and it's helped the Gamecocks force 17.7 turnovers per game over the past three contests, while they have turned it over just 9.3 times per game themselves.

But this newfound focus will be tested against a less-talented opponent Friday night. Can the Gamecocks give 100 percent effort for 40 minutes, even if the game starts to get out of hand?

DISCIPLINE ON DEFENSE. One of South Carolina's lingering issues has been getting into foul trouble, as the Gamecocks committed 32 fouls against Marshall and two players fouled out. Martin has been unhappy at times this season with South Carolina's tendency to foul shooters close to the basket, rather than contest shots cleanly, and several games this season have hinged on how the opposing team fared from the charity stripe.

The Bulldogs shoot just 61.6 percent from the line -- not an intimidating percentage by any means -- but Friday's game is South Carolina's last chance to address that problem before conference play begins.

Probable starting lineups:

South Carolina
G - #0 Sindarius Thornwell, 6-5, 206 Fr. (11.0 PPG, 3.5 RPG)
G - #1 Brenton Williams, 5-11, 172 Sr. (10.5 PPG, 1.9 RPG)
G - #10 Duane Notice, 6-2, 221 Fr. (6.2 PPG, 2.7 RPG)
F - #21 Demetrius Henry, 6-9, 215 Fr. (6.8 PPG, 4.7 RPG)
F - #25 Mindaugas Kacinas, 6-7, 210 So. (6.3 PPG, 5.6 RPG)

S.C. State
G - #0 Jalen White, 6-1, 185 Fr. (4.9 PPG, 3.0 RPG)
G - #2 Theron Stephens, 5-9, 165 Sr. (3.6 PPG, 0.5 RPG)
G - #15 Devin Joint, 6-4, 190 So. (4.7 PPG, 4.4 RPG)
F - #33 Luka Radovic, 6-9, 220 Jr. (2.7 PPG, 2.8 RPG)
F - #30 Darryl Palmer, 6-7, 210 So. (7.5 PPG, 6.6 RPG)

Next game: South Carolina begins SEC play Wednesday, Jan. 8, when the Gamecocks travel to Gainesville, Fla., to face the No. 12 Gators. The game will tip at 7 p.m. and will be televised on CSS.



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