WHAT: Vermont (6-2) at No. 20 South Carolina (6-0)
WHERE: Colonial Life Arena (18,000), Columbia, SC
WHEN: Thur., Dec. 1, 6:30 p.m.
TV/RADIO: SEC Network Plus (Burch Antley, Carey Rich); Gamecock Radio Network (Derek Scott, Casey Manning).
Don’t sleep on Vermont.
That’s the message Frank Martin has delivered to his team this week as the Gamecocks, nationally ranked for the first time this season following impressive back-to-back victories over Top 25 opponents Michigan and Syracuse, look to begin December on the right foot.
Vermont, eying its first win over a ranked opponent in more than nine years, is a program with a proud tradition. The Catamounts have won 20 or more games in eight straight seasons, advancing to the semifinals of the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) for the second straight year in 2015-16 and reaching the American East Tournament championship game for the third time in coach John Becker’s first five seasons.
Vermont, ranked No. 18 in the national mid-major poll released on Monday, is familiar to Martin from his four years (200-04) as an assistant at Northeastern.
“Vermont is a very good basketball team,” Martin said Monday during his weekly press conference. “They were our nemesis in my time in the America East. Vermont was winning 24, 25 games every year and winning games in the NCAA Tournament. We beat them once, but they were virtually impossible to beat. They play very disciplined basketball. This will be a hard game to play, especially coming off the two we just played.”
Led by redshirt junior Payton Henson (13.5 ppg, 55.9 pct. FG pct.), Vermont is shooting 48.5 percent from the floor (213-439), but the Gamecocks present arguably the stiffest test of the season for the Catamounts.
“Vermont is a very proud program and has an unbelievable fan following,” Martin said. “They have figured out a niche as to who to recruit and where to recruit from. Obviously, they have a winning culture in place. Their coach has done an unbelievable job in continuing that and now adding his own flavor to it. Watching them on film, they are impressive. We’ll have our work cut out for us.”
USC enters Thursday's matchup ranked in the top five in the country in both scoring defense (5th, 56.7 ppg) and field goal percentage defense (4th, 32.3 pct) after holding Michigan (19.2 pct.) and Syracuse (31.8 pct.) to their season lows in the category last week.
The 20th ranked Gamecocks, one of 19 unbeaten teams remaining in the country, have held four straight opponents under 32 percent shooting, five of the first six opponents under 38 percent.
USC has also dominated opponents close to the basket, outscoring Michigan and Syracuse in the paint by a 66-16 in the last two games. In the last three games, the Gamecocks enjoy a 110-28 advantage in points in the paint.
In addition, USC leads the SEC in rebounding margin (+10.2).
“We’re excited about who we’re becoming as a team,” Martin said. “The guys are fun to coach. They are playing very hard for me right now and trying their hardest. It didn’t start three weeks ago or after the Monmouth game. This started as soon as last year ended. Our returning guys in the offseason were phenomenal. The trip to Costa Rica allowed our guys to start creating an identity of who they are.”
USC: Duane Notice (10.5 ppg), Sindarius Thornwell (20.0), P.J. Dozier (10.2), Maik Kotsar (9.2), Chris Silva 9.0)
Vermont: Trae Bell-Haynes (9.1), Ernie Duncan (11.5), Anthony Lamb (10.6), Kurt Steidl (8.5), Payton Henson (13.5).
Scoring Average: Sindarius Thornwell (20.0)
Total Points: Sindarius Thornwell (120)
Field Goal Pct: Mail Kotsar (75.0)
3-Pt Pct: Rakym Felder (75.0)
Free Throw Pct: P.J. Dozier (91.7)
Total Rebounds: Sindarius Thornwell (42)
Defensive Rebounds: Sindarius Thornwell (31)
Offensive Rebounds: Chris Silva (16)
Assists: Sindarius Thornwell (20)
Turnovers: Sindarius Thornwell (18)
Blocks: Chris Silva (10)
Steals: P.J. Dozier (12)
Minutes: Sindarius Thornwell (188)
NEXT FIVE GAMES
12/1 VERMONT, 6:30 p.m. (SEC Network Plus)
12/4 FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL, 2 p.m. (SEC Network Plus)
12/12 vs. Seton Hall (at New York City), 9 p.m. (TBD)
12/17 at USF, 1 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)
12/21 CLEMSON, 9 p.m. (ESPNU)