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January 15, 2014

Hoops preview: Texas A&M

South Carolina (7-8, 0-2) at Texas A&M (11-4, 2-0)
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Reed Arena (12,989)
TV: SEC TV/ESPN3/Watch ESPN Series Texas A&M leads 1-0
Last meeting: The Aggies defeated South Carolina 74-56 on March 2, 2013, in College Station.

"Be aggressive. Be, be aggressive."

It's an old cheer but a good one, and an appropriate for tonight's battle in College Station, Texas, between South Carolina (7-8, 0-2) and Texas A&M (11-4, 2-0), two teams bookending the SEC standings with the Gamecocks looking up and eager to find any way to scratch out a conference win.

That will be difficult chore against a Texas A&M team that's proving tough to beat with a convincing 16-point win over Arkansas at home and a thrilling 57-56 win at the buzzer over Tennessee in Knoxville.

"They're scoring a lot better than they did earlier in the year," USC head coach Frank Martin said of the Aggies. "The kid (Alex) Caruso, he didn't go there to be a point guard, but because of defections he was kind of forced to that job last year and he's taken it and ran with it. He's playing his tail off right now.

"They're playing pretty comfortable right now. They're understanding what they need to do, they're playing with confidence."

Martin said a key to their success so far has been their aggressiveness, offering up the Tennessee game as an object lesson.

"(Texas A&M) scored 18 points in the first half against Tennessee and were just not real aggressive offensively," Martin said. "Coming off the Arkansas game where they were extremely aggressive offensively, I'm sitting there watching the game and then they come out in the second half and they played like a team that knows they didn't play aggressively but has the confidence to be able to do it in the middle of a game.

"That's when you know you're playing a good team. They don't allow a segment of a game to impact how they play the rest of the game. They came out the second half and were ultra agressive. They were in attack mode. They scrap.

"Billy Kennedy's teams, if you follow his career at Murray and SE Louisiana, offensively they don't make mistakes, the guys who are supposed to shoot shoot it and their ability to not make mistakes on offense allows their defense to set and they scrap you, they fight you. They don't give you anything easy. So you have to be extremely efficient, you have to be clean in your cuts and your screens and you better make some shots because they won't give you anything easy."

Whether South Carolina can match the aggressiveness they'll see tonight will go a long way to determining whether or not the Gamecocks can get their first SEC win of the season.

Three keys to victory

FEED THORNWELL: On Saturday in Columbia, freshman shooting guard Sindarius Thornwell got off to a hot start with 13 first-half points and scored a career-high 25 points, good enough to help earn him SEC Freshman of the Week honors from the SEC. For the Gamecocks to have the kind of offensive punch it needs to battle the heavyweights of the league, Thornwell has to be near that mark. After averaging only 7 points in his previous six games before league play, he needs to show his breakout game against the Tigers was no fluke, and that begins on the road tonight.

WINDEX PATROL: Martin was irate at his team's inability to protect the rim and collect key defensive rebounds against LSU. Time and again the Gamecocks lost opportunities to end LSU possessions and/or create transition opportunities for themselves. Part of that was because of Demetrius Henry getting in foul trouble early and part of that was that LSU simply had a superior front lone that he Gamecocks had no answers for physically. USC's inside play, especially in the rebounding category, has to improve.

NOTICE ME?: On Tuesday, Martin mentioned how important it is for Duane Notice to play well if the Gamecocks are to be as good as they can be. When USC was winning five of six in December, Notice was on fire, scoring in double figures in every game but one and averaging 11.3 points with a career-high of 15 at home against Akron. Against Florida he scored 8, but against LSU he disappeared from the scorer's sheet, failing to score a single point for just the second time all year (the other came against Florida International when he only played one minute). Like Thornwell did on Saturday, Notice needs a confidence-builder in a league game, and tonight's game could be just the tonic.

Probable starting lineups:

South Carolina G - #0 Sindarius Thornwell, 6-5, 206 Fr. (11.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg)
G - #1 Brent Williams, 5-11, 172 Sr. (11.1 ppg., 1.8 rpg.)
G - #10 Duane Notice, 6-2, 221 Fr. (6.3 ppg, 2.3 rpg)
F - #21 Demetrius Henry, 6-9, 215 Fr. (6.3 ppg, 4.6 rpg)
F - #25 Mindaugas Kacinas, 6-7, 210 So. (5.9 ppg, 5.5 rpg)

Texas A&M G - #12 Fabyon Harris, 5-11, 178 Sr. (7.3 ppg, 2.3 rpg)
G - #21 Alex Caruso, 6-5, 183 So. (9.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg)
F - #5 Jordan Green, 6-5, 188 Jr. (7.9 ppg, 2.5 rpg)
F - #23 Jamal Jones, 6-8, 197 Jr. (10.9 ppg., 3.9 rpg)
F - #14 Kourtney Roberson, 6-9, 240 Jr. (10.4 ppg, 7.7 rpg)

Next game: South Carolina hosts Ole Miss on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. ET.



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