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February 10, 2014

Martin: Depth has affected defense

It's hard enough to win when your scoring offense (70.6 ppg.) is in the lower half of the league.

It's harder still when your field-goal percentage defense is the worst in the conference (.444).

That's the challenge facing South Carolina head coach Frank Martin as the loss in January of seasoned defenders at the guard position - senior Bruce Ellington and the big, physical junior Ty Johnson - forced him to change course defensively just as conference play began.

"Because of depth issues we've had to change our defensive philosophy in the middle of the season, and that's not something we planned to do," Martin said Monday during the weekly SEC teleconference. "When we entered SEC play, teams were shooting about 38 percent from the field against us, and we played a top-15 schedule in the country. We just had to make some adjustments on the fly and adapt some things of how we're doing it."

"Our front line guys, we're not protecting the rim. Some of our freshmen, a couple of them have played real well in Duane (Notice) and Sindarius (Thornwell), but they've had to play so many minutes that they get worn down. Brent Williams, the challenge of him has always been defense, so now his minutes are up so that gets exposed a little bit more. Some of our other freshmen, the burden of SEC play has kind of jumped on their shoulders and they haven't played as well as of late.

"That's what we're trying to do is get them refocused and re-excited about doing some of the things they did in the early part of the schedule to help us."

For the Gamecocks to improve, they're going to need to take lessons from a team like Vanderbilt, who comes to town Wednesday. The Commodores started SEC play 1-4 but have bounced back to win four of their last five.

"I don't know if any coach in the country has done a better job than Kevin Stallings," Martin said. "He has a group of upperclassmen who have been with him a while that understand the crazy stuff that happens in this business every once in a while and they're relied on one another and are playing great, great basketball. Kevin does an unbelievable job.

"To overcome difficult moments, you need guys that number one are confident in what they do and number two, have experience so they don't get over-judgmental. They've got both of those situations along with Kevin Stallings who, like I said, does an incredible job."

By contrast, Martin pointed out that where he has to ask his freshmen to carry the burden of leadership during those difficult moments, at Vanderbilt it's the opposite.

"The young freshman (Damian Jones), as talented as he is, and I think he has the chance to become a pro, as talented as he is the burden of responsibility is not on his shoulders," Martin said. "It's been accepted by (Dai-Jon) Parker, by (Rod) Odom, by (Kyle) Fuller, by all those guys, by (James) Siakam.

"All those guys who have been in that system who have played major minutes in a college game before. They're the ones who have been able to carry the burden of the difficult moments for their program, and it's allowed (Jones)to grow at his rate. And wow, is he good."

For a model of how that system should look, Martin said one has to look no further than Gainesville.

"(Florida) play(s) every play with an attention to detail that's incredible and a sense of urgency that's incredible," Martin said. "They're five guys on the court are connected to each other. That's what winning programs do.

"They have young guys that com in, they're taught by upperclassmen who understand attention to detail, who understand sense of urgency every day in practice in every individual drill, let alone every possession of a game. They're very efficient offensively, they're very sound defensively and then they're tough as nails. It's hard to overcome.

"It's not 'a person's' team, it's the university's team. They've got a team that plays for that uniform. Those guys all have taken ownership of that and play for that uniform."



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