When a team is not playing that well, it's a senior captain's duty to knock it out of the rut.
Well done, Zam Fredrick.
Fredrick scored a season-high 23 points on Saturday, helping overcome a second-half South Carolina swoon on the way to a 75-53 win over USC Upstate. The Gamecocks were never in serious danger of losing -- the closest the Spartans got in the second half was 14 points -- but poor shooting, slipping defense and a rising lack of focus wasn't inspiring anybody.
Fredrick kept firing away, though, scoring 10 points in the second half, and USC stayed undefeated.
"It's all of our jobs, but I feel it's more responsibility on the captains," Fredrick said. "Me, Dominique (Archie) and Devan (Downey). When they went on their run, we were in a zone and no energy.
"We just wish the defense picked the energy back up and got some easy looks and knocked down some easy jumpers and and-ones and got the lead back up."
After taking advantage of several Upstate turnovers in the first half, turning them into 12 points, USC (3-0) roared into halftime ahead 47-25. The Gamecocks weathered a small stretch of foul trouble with Fredrick breaking that stretch, too, scoring six of USC's nine points during a 19-11 run.
USC built the lead to as much as 27 but the shot selection began to drop, the Spartans (0-3) getting to within 15 with 8:05 to play. Evka Baniulis missed a 3-pointer and that was followed by missed jumpers from Archie and Fredrick, but Upstate tried to turn a loose ball into an easy bucket and came up short.
A rainbow pass was intercepted by Mike Holmes, who fired downcourt to a running Branden Conrad. The ball was a little too far out in front for Conrad, but the senior snared it just before it went out of bounds and threw it to Austin Steed.
Steed quickly relayed to Fredrick, who promptly buried the last of his points on a 3-pointer. The lead leaped back to 17 points and while USC shot deplorably the rest of the way, its defense held serve.
"We had a couple of breakdowns that led to that," coach Darrin Horn said. "Offensively, we weren't as good -- again, not displeased with the effort by any stretch -- but part of growing as a team is learning how to play with those leads. We shot four straight 3s, none of which were bad, but probably not what we needed at that time when the lead got down a little bit. Those are all things we'll learn."
Fredrick's percentage cooled off with the rest of the Gamecocks -- he finished 9-of-15 after going 6-for-8 in the first half. USC was ahead 22 at the half and won by the same margin, each team scoring 28 points in the second half.
It seemed to be one of those glass-half-full, glass-half-empty questions. The Gamecocks won comfortably, but didn't look that good doing it.
"For me to tell you I'm pleased wouldn't be true, cause you can't settle," declared Downey, who scored 16 points, dished six assists and had six steals. "We got to keep getting better."
USC never gave up on defense, forcing 20 turnovers, one where Fredrick out-hustled Pat Posey toward Upstate's goal, corralled the ball at full speed and somehow threw it off Posey's leg before he tumbled out of bounds. It was that kind of effort that clinched the game, USC as cold as the weather from the floor.
Following Fredrick's 3, USC was 4-of-15. Everybody contributed -- Baniulis scored 13 first-half points and ended with the same total; Holmes only scored four points; Archie mimicked Holmes with four.
But it was hard to complain too loudly -- Baniulis had three defensive rebounds; Holmes yanked 12 boards, another seven on the offensive glass to raise his SEC-leading total; and Archie had six rebounds.
"I don't think it's for lack of effort and trying to do those things," Horn said. "We're three games in and we've got a lot of work to do."
Fredrick shrugged off his hero's accolades and turned to the next game. Win number three doesn't mean much if win number four doesn't soon follow.
"This is the first game I really played two halves without being in foul trouble," he said. "I just kept doing what I do, driving, attacking the basket, shooting the open 3-pointer, finding my teammates when they stepped up and I couldn't get the shot. I just played basketball."