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February 8, 2014
Hoops preview: Tennessee
South Carolina (8-14, 1-8) at Tennessee (14-8, 5-4)
When: 3 p.m.
Where: Thompson-Boling Arena (21,678)
Series: Tennessee leads 38-23
Last meeting: Tennessee defeated USC 66-61 in Columbia on Feb. 10, 2013.
As goals go, it's still right out there on the table, staring at the Gamecocks like a puppy in the window: Win a road game.
Thus far, South Carolina hasn't been able to do that, losing all eight games it has played away from the Colonial Life Arena, most recently a heartbreaking 75-71 loss at Ole Miss in which the Gamecocks blew a 16-point second-half lead with 8:11 to play, finishing the game on the wrong end of a 29-10 run.
Today, USC will try again against a Tennessee team is hasn't beaten since 2007, losing 12 straight in the now-lopsided series (23-38), and hasn't beaten in Knoxville since 2002, a streak of 10 straight.
Martin knows the challenge in front of him. The Volunteers are 10-2 at home and feature two more big, strong guards, led by senior Jordan McRae (6-foot-6, 185) who is averaging 19 points a game.
"Two big-time guards just like the ones we played against (Wednesday) in (Josh) Richardson and McRae," Martin said. "Those two guys are on 'go,' they're in attack mode, they're big, they're athletic.
"Then they have two behemoths inside (Jarnell Stokes and Jerome Maymon, both 6-8, 260) that I'm scared might eat one of my freshman. We have our hands full. But you know what? What are we going to do? Go home and cry? Pout? We aren't going to do that.
"We're going to go over there and go on th road and do what we've done every single game with the exception of Georgia and that's give them our best shot and grow up from the experience."
Three keys to victory
FINISH: The Gamecocks have played well over their past three games, blowing out Texas A&M and dropping two games by less than 10 points combined at Ole Miss and against Auburn on Wednesday. The thread between those two losses was an inability to hold late leads, a bugaboo for South Carolina all season. If USC can take a lead late into today's game, it needs to find the will and confidence to hang onto it no matter what it takes. Do that, and the second half of the SEC schedule can take on an entirely different complexion.
GET BRENT SHOOTING EARLY: There is no doubt in my mind Brent Williams could score 50 points in a game if he wanted to. The key, however, is getting him the confidence to want to. Frank Martin loves Williams, but he doesn't know what else to do sometimes to make him confident enough to launch his 3-pointers or drive to the basket with authority the entire game. Williams has shined in losses, almost single-handedly bringing the Gamecocks back on a couple of occasions, but what frustrates Martin is that Williams waits too long in the game to be as aggressive as he'd like.
BANG BANG: Signs are encouraging that sophomore forward Michal Carrera is beginning to come around and provide a sorely needed offensive and defensive presence. Against Auburn he approached a double-double, snaring eight rebounds with five points, just missing on some putbacks and open jumpers that could have greatly improved his stat line. If Carrera can be a force inside, that can only help freshman Demetrius Henry and sophomore Laimonas Chatkevicius, both of whom aren't having the kind of SEC seasons anyone, least of all themselves, hoped for.
Probable starting lineups:
Next game: South Carolina hosts Vanderbilt Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET.
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