In a 75-48 blowout when all 14 players on South Carolina's active roster logged minutes, a 15th player managed to make a difference all the way from Orlando, Fla.
Akron guards dealt with hands in their faces all afternoon and struggled to bring the ball up the floor as they were hounded for 40 minutes by the likes of Duane Notice, Brenton Williams and Tyrone Johnson. But they probably didn't realize that the true mastermind behind their frustration was 400 miles away, busy preparing for the Capital One Bowl.
"(Bruce) Ellington is an unbelievable influence on some of the guys in that locker room," South Carolina head coach Frank Martin said, moments after noting Brenton Williams' growth defensively. "His presence has allowed Brenton to re-engage. It's allowed Duane to be more prepared for what you have to do to have success. That's what being a teammate is all about. It's about getting your guys prepared for what's in front of you."
Martin said Friday afternoon that Ellington's presence in practice during his brief return to the basketball team showed young players like Duane Notice the kind of work ethic it takes to be successful at the college level, especially on defense. After a performance where South Carolina held the Zips to 33 percent shooting - including just 25 percent from beyond the arc - and forced 21 turnovers, it seems the whole team is catching on.
"They're good defensively," said Akron head coach Keith Dambrot. "They amped up, got in our passing lanes and we really couldn't run anything because of that. It's a weak area for us and they really took advantage of it."
DON'T LOOK NOW, BUT… Senior guard Brenton Williams has connected on 41 consecutive free throw attempts, including two shots from the charity stripe today. The mark ties a South Carolina school record set by John Roche, who played for the Gamecocks from 1968 to 1971.
"I honestly don't think I've probably ever hit that many in a row," Williams said of the streak, while Martin refused to comment, saying he didn't want to jinx it.
"I'm happy for Brent," Martin said.
ELLINGTON LEAVING? Senior guard (and junior wide receiver) Bruce Ellington said Saturday that he submitted his NFL Draft paperwork and will decide whether to come back for next season based on when he is projected to be drafted. Ellington, who has already graduated, said he doesn't have a specific date when he expects to return to the basketball team.
Martin says he doesn't talk to Ellington about "that stuff," but noted that Charlie Ward and Donovan McNabb finished their basketball seasons before being drafted to the NFL.
"Bruce has to do what's best for Bruce Ellington," Martin said. "That's his job. That's why he came to college.
"He's given this university everything he can possibly give it. Not once, but in two different sports, so he's got to make the decision that's right for Bruce. Whatever he does, he's got a friend for life in me. The commitment he's made to this program is unparalleled, at least in my time here. He's got a game to play. When that game's over, he and I will speak. He's all about the ole' Gamecocks. He's going to do what's best for him, but that sits in his heart as well.
DON'T LOOK NOW, BUT… The victory gives South Carolina its first two-game winning streak of the season, as well as its first since Jan. 5, 2012, when the Gamecocks capped a five-game winning streak with a 80-69 bombardment of South Carolina State.
HUSTLE AWARDS. It may not have shown up in the box score, but South Carolina dominated from an effort standpoint. Freshman guard Duane Notice, coming off his three best games as a Gamecock in Hawaii, continued to fill in Bruce Ellington's role as the guy who runs at full-speed the entire game, suffocating opposing point guards without rest. Despite an 0-for-4 day from the field, Notice helped the team in other ways, playing strong defense, coming down with four rebounds and leading the team in assists (6) and (probably) calories burned.
Not far behind him was sophomore forward Michael Carrera, who has recently taken heat from Martin for his lack of engagement and apparent inability to shut out social distractions. Carrera looked anything but unengaged Saturday, fighting for every inch under the basket and muscling his way to a 13-point, seven-rebound, two-assist day. The Venezuela native was a boon for a front court in desperate need of more inside help.
TURNING IT AROUND. Sophomore forward Mindaugas Kacinas couldn't get it going in Hawaii, averaging just 3.3 points and 1.3 rebounds per game in the Diamond Head Classic. But Kacinas found his stride against Akron, posting 11 points; going a perfect 5-5 from the free throw line; and adding two rebounds, two blocks and two steals.
CLEARING THE BENCH. All 14 members of South Carolina's active roster checked in against Akron. At one point late in the game, five freshmen - Duane Notice, Jaylen Shaw, Justin McKie, Desmond Ringer and Reggie Theus Jr. - were on the court at the same time, and they were throttling the Zips just like the rest of the team.
Shaw was his usual self, converting an and-one on his only attempt of the game and dishing three assists. But in just seven minutes of action, Ringer - a 6-foot-9, 225-pound forward - had the best game of his college career. The McDonough, Ga., native grabbed four rebounds, logged an assist and went 3-4 from the floor to score a career-high six points.
Seldom-used Austin Constable, a walk-on from West Chester, Pa., played two minutes, but didn't record a stat. It's a tough break for Constable, as a corner three from a guy getting his first minutes of the season would have surely brought the Colonial Life Arena crowd to its feet.
QUALITY COMPETITION. The Zips won 26 games and made it to the NCAA Tournament a season ago, but Akron is also one of the most consistent teams in the country. The Zips have won 22 games or more in each of the last eight seasons, one of only six Division I programs to do so. The other five teams are Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, Ohio State and Pittsburgh. Entering the game Saturday, Akron had won 28 of its last 35 games dating back to last season.
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