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January 29, 2014

Hoops preview: Texas A&M

Texas A&M (12-7, 3-3) at South Carolina (7-12, 0-6)
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Colonial Life Arena (18,000)
TV: SEC TV/ESPN3
Series Texas A&M leads 2-0
Last meeting: Texas A&M defeated USC 75-67 in College Station, Texas, on Jan. 15, 2014.

The show - despite the snow - must go on.

South Carolina (7-12, 0-6) will seek to end its worst start in the SEC in school history tonight despite winter weather across the state when Texas A&M and the Gamecocks tip off at 7 p.m. at the Colonial Life Arena.

Already tied with the 1998-99 team for the school's poorest start in Southeastern Conference play since joining the league for the 1991-92 season, a loss and 0-7 start would leave them alone in the record books.

Should they lose, a loss wouldn't be the worst overall losing streak in the SE for the Gamecocks, however. Eddie Fogler's 1999-2000 team lost eight straight SEC games before snapping the streak. Three other teams (1992-93, 1998-99, 2002-03) had losing streaks of seven games during the season.

Helping the Gamecocks cause tonight will be the fact that they'll be at home - four of USC's first six SEC games have been on the road and against teams with a combined 80-28 overall, 24-12 in the SEC - and that they played the Aggies tough in College Station.

"We saw some of the things (Texas A&M) did that hurt us and we've addressed that with the team," head coach Frank Martin said. "Now we've got to go out and be better in those areas so they'll have to hurt us in different avenues.

"I thought we played pretty good in that game with the exception of about a three-, four-minute window in the second half that cost us the game. But give them credit. With the game on the line they jumped up and made some hard threes and we didn't. That's why they won."

One area Martin said he hopes his team can continue to improve in is sending opponents to the line. On Tuesday he shrugged off the notion that the new rules regarding hand-checking.

"The new rules have nothing to do with our foul trouble," Martin said. "Our foul trouble is (because of) guys that don't guard the basketball so we get beat, so now we have to rotate and you know, you're playing three guards like you have at Missouri, and if you don't contain them and allow them to blow by you it puts everyone in a bad spot. Our fouls are just young and immature.

"When we're off the ball we have guys that grab. When their guy starts cutting they grab. When the ball is shot they grab. When you do that, it's going to get called a foul. Our players have to learn to stop, and we have to do a better job of coaching.

"Here's the problem we have. It's hard for us to simulate in practice what the Georgia guards, what the Missouri guards, do. So we might get away with not having to guard the ball with the attention to detail that you gotta have when you play those kinds of teams or the sense of urgency you gotta have, because we don't have the personnel in practice to challenge each other the way those guys challenge you in a game. So our guys are having to learn in the game, and that's hard."

Three keys to victory

FEED OFF THE CROWD: In both of the Gamecocks' home losses, the crowds have been over 10,000 and the game was up for grabs in the final minute. It's unlikely that due to the weather the Colonial Life Arena will see another 10,000 fans, but the ones that do come need to be loud and supportive. Martin said the energy from the crowd gave his team a home-court-advantage for the first time since he's been here the last game out, and he is hoping that remains the same the rest of the year. If South Carolina is going to avoid the worst SEC record in school history, it desperately needs to win at home, starting tonight.

ENGAGE CARRERA: After having been more or less held in check for most of the season as he's struggled to play with his emotions and body under control, sophomore forward Michael Carrera has come alive, recording a team-high six rebounds at Georgia and following that up with his sixth career double-double against Missouri (16 pts., 11 reb.). An engaged Carrera is a key ingredient for South Carolina's success.

KEEP WILLIAMS WARM: When asked if he expected to see Brent Williams continue to play at the level he did against Missouri (32 points), Martin literally LOL'd, saying if he did, he'd make a lot of money playing basketball in the future. That enigma - how Williams can be a scoring phenom one minute and disappear the next - has been the story of Williams' career in Columbia. Of late, however, Williams has been getting the better of his nemesis - consistency - and has been in double figures in 10 of his last 11 games, including averaging 25 points in his last two games. Like Carrera's surge, the Gamecocks need Williams performing at a high level to turn the corner this year.

Probable starting lineups:

South Carolina
G - #0 Sindarius Thornwell, 6-5, 206 Fr. (12.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg)
G - #1 Brent Williams, 5-11, 172 Sr. (12.6 ppg., 1.7 rpg.)
G - #10 Duane Notice, 6-2, 221 Fr. (6.7 ppg, 2.3 rpg)
F - #24 Michael Carrera, 6-5, 214 So. (6.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg)
F - #21 Demetrius Henry, 6-9, 215 Fr. (5.5 ppg, 4.2 rpg)

Texas A&M
G - #2 Shawn Smith, 6-4, 192 Fr. (5.6 ppg, 3.3 rpg)
G - #21 Alex Caruso, 6-5, 183 So. (9.1 ppg, 3.5 rpg)
G - #5 Jordan Green, 6-5, 188 Jr. (7.4 ppg, 2.4 rpg)
F - #23 Jamal Jones, 6-8, 197 Jr. (11.8 ppg., 3.8 rpg)
F - #14 Kourtney Roberson, 6-9, 244 Jr. (9.9 ppg, 7.2 rpg)

Next game: South Carolina travels to Ole Miss on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. ET.



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