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February 8, 2014

Hoops extra: Tennessee

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - When you're starving, anything tastes good.

When you're starving for a win, any opportunity looks good, especially two upcoming home games against two teams a combined 8-10 in the SEC in Vanderbilt and Alabama.

For Sindarius Thornwell, tasting victory is something he hopes his team can do for a number of reasons coming off Saturday's 72-53 loss to Tennessee.

"It's big playing at home where we have a bit of confidence," said Thornwell, who finished with a game-high 15 points. "Brent (Williams) is shooting the ball good at home, so we try to get him the ball, get him open shots, try to get our bigs more involved.

"Hopefully we can get something established down inside and get our bigs some confidence. We've got to try to win at home. It's a big thing, winning at home."

Demetrius Henry said the goal right now is improvement.

"We try to find something new every day to help us become a better team," Henry said. "We try to go back to the time we went on that four-game winning streak when we got the two wins out in Hawaii and the two wins at home.

"We're just trying to find the right things to do. We're not getting discouraged at all. If anything, if all comes to worst, we want to have a good year for Bill (Williams) to make sure he leaves on a good note."

For Thornwell, the pain of so many agonizingly close losses in recent weeks is tough.

"It's hard," Thornwell said. "You lose close ones here and there, it's hard to try to stay focused, stay on task.

"You have games right there, you have them. Like Ole Miss, we blew that game. We blew a couple of games so it's hard to stay focused, but we have to do what we have to do. The season isn't over, so we have to keep playing."

MAN OF STEELE: With the Gamecocks playing lethargically and needing inspiration, sophomore forward Brian Steele logged career-highs in minutes (26), points (7) and field goals made (3) and season highs in rebounds (4), 3-pointers taken (3) and 3-pointers made (1).

Steele's 26 minutes were equal to the total minutes of starters Michael Carrera (5), Demetrius Henry (12) and reserve Desmond Ringer (9) combined.

"Brian plays with tremendous energy and enthusiasm," Martin said. "I'm going to say something I probably shouldn't say, but he's very limited as a player. But his desire is extremely big.

"We had no energy and he gives energy, so that's why I chose to play him. He did a lot of good things for us. His enthusiasm for the game I think allowed guys like Sindarius and Duane that are young to keep their spirits in place and play the whole game and do some good things in the second half."

DOGHOUSE ADDS CARRERA: Coming into the game, sophomore forward Michael Carrera had recorded more offensive rebounds (18) in his previous four games than over his last 11 combined and looked to be a big factor against Tennessee's bigs.

While Carrera started for the Gamecocks, he played just five minutes Saturday, missing two shots and snaring two rebounds. The five minutes were the fewest of Carrera's career, not counting his one-game suspension in December against USC-Upstate for his role in a post-game scuffle with Manhattan.

When asked what Carrera did to see so little time on the court, Martin was direct.

"I'd rather not get into that conversation with you right now," he said.

SIZE WINS: Not only was South Carolina out-manned physically inside on Saturday, the size of Tennessee's guards presented a huge problem and was a major reason the Gamecocks shot just 35.7 percent for the game from the floor. Williams, who scored 29 on Wednesday against Auburn, was held scoreless in the first half and finished with just 8 points.

"It's not just (Tennessee's) size at the rim, it's the size on the perimeter that really bothered us," Martin said. "Brent couldn't get his shot off. Their attention to detail defensively was phenomenal.

"They're all 6-5 and above on the perimeter. We did some good things at times on offense, we just didn't make enough shots. We started the game and our bigs had point-blank look after point-blank look and just couldn't convert. If you don't convert some of those inside shots then the defense never collapses. If it doesn't collapse, it's hard in a game where every guard is 6-5 and above, to get Brent the space he needs to get some baskets."

WILLIAMS CONTINUES STREAK: Though his school-record 50-consecutive free throw streak is over, Williams had made 43 consecutive free throws entering Saturday's game. Williams made it 46 straight by going 3-for-3 against the Volunteers.

SEC Schedule Florida 78, Alabama 69
Kentucky 69, Mississippi State 59
Tennessee 72, USC 53
Arkansas 77, Vanderbilt 75
LSU 87, Auburn 80
Ole Miss 91, Missouri 88
Texas A&M at Georgia, 8 p.m.



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