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January 16, 2014

Ringer shining in SEC play

Out of the ashes of a loss to Texas A&M that put the Gamecocks at the bottom of the Southeastern Conference and Ty Johnson out of action potentially for the rest of the year, one player caught fire who could provide a boost at a position perhaps more challenged than even the point guard - power forward.

Against the Aggies, freshman Desmond Ringer scored a season-high 9 points and tied a season high for rebounds with a team-high seven in the 75-67 loss. His previous scoring high was seven, at Florida, and it appears as if he's beginning to surge at a time when his frontcourt mate Demetrius Henry is going in the opposite direction.

With only Lithuanians Mindaugas Kacinas and Laimonas Chatkevicius returning after uneven freshman campaigns in 2012-13, true freshmen Henry and Ringer had to play a huge role inside for the 2013-14 Gamecocks to succeed.

Thus far Henry had mostly lived up to expectations, starting every game and averaging 6.1 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. As conference play began, however, his productivity has plummeted. Averaging 10 points a game the three games leading into the SEC opener at Florida, in league competition he's scored a total of seven points (2 v. Florida, 1 v. LSU and 4 v. A&M) as foul trouble and an increased physicality have taken a toll on his confidence and game.

"Demetrius being in foul trouble the last two games has hurt our team," Martin said prior to the Texas A&M game. "But that's on him. You can't foul. The fouls he's committing are all bad fouls. He has to clean that up."

It is precisely Ringer's physicality (6-foot-9, 255) that has positioned him for success in the interior battles that the smaller-bodied Henry (6-9, 215) isn't designed for or comfortable engaging in.

"(Ringer is) learning to throw that big ole body around a little better," Martin said. "He's going after the ball rather than standing there waiting for the ball. You know a lot of kids in high school, big kids especially, rebounds are easier to get, scoring is easier when you're bigger than most. You take up more space than most people.

"Now he's in college, and I don't know if you realize it, but in the LSU game, he might have been the fourth-biggest guy on the court and he's learning how to be able to go get a rebound and go get a shot in the post-up."

Even when he doesn't score - he only had two points against LSU - he can still be effective, Martin said.

"(Against LSU) he put two fouls on their players just by posting," Martin said. "He has to be able to do that more often. That doesn't get the credit (it deserves), when you put that body on them and you post them. Everybody wants to see the guys who scores 20.

"Well, we need a guy that goes in there and occupies and forces people to guard so I can pick up two fouls on the opposing players because they're just trying to get around the post or when the ball's shot, he throws that big old body around in there and takes two guys out of the way and gives somebody an opportunity for an offensive rebound."

Averaging just 2.0 rebounds per game in non-conference competition, Ringer has elevated his rebounding effort and is averaging 5.3 rebounds per game in SEC play. The confidence also has seen his scoring average go from 2.4 points per game through the first 13 games to 6.0 ppg. in three league games.

Martin said that kind of performance has to continue for the Gamecocks to have a legitimate inside presence this year to open-up offensive opportunities.

"Obviously on the defensive glass, he has to get some more," Martin said. "Desmond has to learn how to score over size. He's never had to do that before. That's our job as coaches. We have to help him get better.

"But he's got the will, he's about the right things. He's not one of those guys that's going to dazzle you with athleticism, but God's blessed some guys with great athleticism who can't withstand, and he's been given a body that withstands contact. He goes in the weight room and he gets after it in there.

"He just needs to continue to learn the college game, the strength, the speed, the size and continue to feel good about what he does to impact the game in a positive way. But his rebounding is something we need."

Especially now, with Johnson on the shelf, Henry in a slump and a season teetering in the balance.



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