Freshman guard Sindarius Thornwell has become a symbol of hope for USC's basketball program, and he's still finding new ways to grow as a player.
Thornwell went toe-to-toe with preseason All-SEC first-team guard Trevor Releford Saturday and came out on top, scoring 22 points, grabbing four rebounds and dishing four assists to help the Gamecocks down the Crimson Tide 67-66 at Colonial Life Arena. The experience was educational for Thornwell, who found himself emulating Releford - the SEC's active career leader in points and steals - during the game.
"It was a good experience. The last few minutes - the last 10, I think - I saw how he was creating fouls," Thornwell said of Releford, who finished with 27 points, four rebounds and three assists. "I saw how he was creating fouls and how he paced himself. I took that in, and I think there was one possession when I drove middle from the wing, and I did the same thing he was doing. I learned off of what he was doing.
"He knew that we were in a foul situation and he just took advantage of it. I knew that they were in a foul situation, so I took advantage of it too. I just learned off playing against him, and it helped my game, and we won."
South Carolina head coach Frank Martin says he's already impressed with how much the freshman knows.
"Here's the funnest part about coaching Sindarius: When you call a timeout, you can play him at the three, the four, the one, I don't care," Martin said. "He knows what to do when you say, 'we're running this' at any spot. And when you coach guys like that, it's fun. And now that he's taking our team, the lead, his voice is heard at every timeout.
"Like today, he did something I haven't had a player do at South Carolina since I've been here. I was real aggravated with a bad, bad play by one of our guys at a timeout. He grabbed my arm, and he said, 'What do you need me to run?' So I've got my mind away from the mistake, and I saw one of my guys saying, 'Help me so we can win.' So immediately it got my mind to that. It's fun to be around, especially a kid that young that can embrace that so quick in his career."
RECORD WATCH. Saturday's game marked Thornwell's fifth SEC contest with 20 points or more, tying a USC freshmen record set by BJ McKie. McKie was named the SEC Freshman of the Year in 1996.
CARRERA ON THE INSIDE. Sophomore forward Michael Carrera seems to have cemented his position in the starting lineup. The 2013 SEC All-Freshman team member has started each of South Carolina's last eight games, and only appears to be getting better. He was a workhorse against Alabama, wreaking havoc on the defensive end while creating space for his teammates on offense. Carrera finished with eight points, a team-high 7 rebounds, and a team-high four blocks in 24 minutes.
SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION - SORT OF. After not scoring in any of South Carolina's last six games, freshman guard Jaylen Shaw saw significant playing time against Alabama. The Hartsville, S.C., native scored eight points and logged an assist and a steal in 17 minutes of action against the Crimson Tide. Unfortunately for Shaw, none of those points came in the second half, when he played just six minutes and attempted one shot.
SCORING MACHINE. Brenton Williams quietly racked up 10 points - second most on the team - and two rebounds Saturday. The senior guard has taken a back seat with Thornwell's emergence as a dynamic talent, but has still managed to score in double digits in eight of his last nine games.
STILL TRAILING. Alabama still leads the all-time series 24-14.
UP NEXT. South Carolina travels to Arkansas to face the Razorbacks Wednesday night at 9 p.m.
Team SEC, Overall
Florida 11-0, 22-2
Kentucky 9-2, 19-5
Georgia 8-4, 14-10
Ole Miss 7-5, 16-9
LSU 6-6, 15-9
Tennessee 6-6, 15-10
Missouri 6-6, 18-7
Texas A&M 5-7, 14-11
Vanderbilt 6-6, 14-10
Alabama 5-8, 11-15
Arkansas 5-7, 16-9
Auburn 3-8, 11-11
South Carolina 3-9, 10-15
Mississippi State 3-9, 9-16
Auburn 92, Mississippi State 82
Vanderbilt 57, Texas A&M 54
South Carolina 67, Alabama 66
Missouri 75, Tennessee 70
Georgia 61, Ole Miss 60
Arkansas 81, LSU 70
No. 3 Florida at No. 14 Kentucky, 9 p.m.
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