Hoops preview: Oklahoma State

South Carolina (2-2) at No. 9 Oklahoma State (7-1)
When: 9:30 p.m.
Where: Gallager-Iba Arena (13,611)
Series USC leads 1-0. The last meeting was a South Carolina win, 70-61, on Dec. 23, 1975, in Columbia (Carolina Classic Tournament).
Breaks can be good, breaks can be bad.
South Carolina men's basketball coach Frank Martin will find out whether his team's 12-day break since its last game, an 84-72 win over FIU, was beneficial or detrimental tonight at 9:30 when he sends his troops to the court to play No. 9 Oklahoma State in Stillwater, Okla.
If it's good, great. If it's bad, well, he knows who to blame.
"I made the schedule, so I've got nobody to blame but the guy that looks at me in the morning when I'm brushing my teeth," Martin said. "We had a four-day break there for Thanksgiving. I like giving the guys either Christmas or Thanksgiving off. It's hard to ask them to be tied up for both holidays. I think it's the right thing to do, so we gave them a four-day break there.
"Our guys have been great since they've been back. I think the excitement to play is back. I'm aging in dog years, but it's OK. There's an enthusiasm and a desire to get better that makes it exciting for me.
"I think when you're doing something every day for six, seven weeks, whatever it was, then all of a sudden you stop for three or four days, you get excited about doing it again. I'm just happy to finally get back to a game week; it's been a while."
For the players, the break was more than welcome, as nearly every player was able to go home for Thanksgiving and those who weren't had Thanksgiving dinner with associate head coach Matt Figger, Martin said.
"This long break, coach let us go home for a little bit to be with our families, but we come back thinking about the next game," junior guard Ty Johnson said. "I think this break also helps us ... just fixing up all our mistakes, going over plays, making sure we know our assignments as a team and just coming back and being prepared and ready for the next game.
"It also helps us with resting our legs a little bit. Those two or three days we had off, resting our bodies helped a lot. Come back for our next game, we want to be the most in-shape team. As far as physical-wise, we want to be physical, not tired. Those days off kind of helps us just rest our bodies."
He'll get no argument from fellow guard Brenton Williams.
"I think the long break, I think it will be beneficial," Williams said. "That gives us more time to get towards what's our main focus, which is SEC play, even though we have some games in between that time, until we get there.
"That gives us time to tighten up on the little stuff and the stuff that we're doing good at, to get even better at, heading towards SEC play. We're definitely going to find that time to make it beneficial than looking at it as a negative thing as having two games in about a month span."
For now, the focus is on the next opportunity, which just happens to be against a top-10 team on national television. True to his philosophy, Martin isn't overemphasizing this game versus any other, but getting his players to understand that will take time.
"I think our guys are human," Martin said. "They're young They still don't understand; I told them at the end of practice that (tonight's) game is a great opportunity because it's the next game on the schedule. The value of the game is the same as the game we play after the Oklahoma State game.
"They don't throw a bigger celebration or we don't go into a world of depression because of a game in November or December. It's the next game, it's the next step. The next game on the schedule should always be the most important game on your schedule, and you should play it like it's the last one you'll ever play. That's the mindset we try to create."
"This isn't a 50-yard sprint. We're running a double marathon here, and it's about keeping going so we're strong at the finish line."
Three keys to victory
CLEAN THE GLASS: One of the problems Frank Martin says comes with relying on zone defense is that defensive rebounds are harder to come by. With his team's freshmen struggling physically and mentally with his aggressive man-to-man approach, Martin is having to rely on the zone more than he'd like, and that's likely to continue tonight. South Carolina will have to find a way to control the defensive boards and limit the Cowboys' second chances if it hopes to spring the upset.
GREEN-LIGHT THORNWELL: Thornwell is a scorer, and while he's been a little reticent at times to embrace the role, he needs to do it and do it now. He needs to fire away and fire away some more regardless of whether the shots are dropping or now. He can penetrate and drive, he has a killer fall-away, he can spot up from 3-point range and knock it down. On the road against a top-10 team, Thornwell needs to come out and outdraw and outshoot the Cowboys.
UNLEASH THE BEAST: Of course, the beast in this case is sophomore battler Michael Carrera. He needs to bring his physicality and intensity to the paint early and use it to set up an inside-out perimeter offensive game for himself that he's in the process of developing. If he can get his scoring average into the double digits, this becomes a much, much more dangerous team.
Probable starting lineups:
South Carolina
G - #0 Sindarius Thornwell, 6-5 206 Fr. (13.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg)
G - #4 Tyrone Johnson, 6-3 194 Jr. (12.3 ppg, 2.3 rpg)
F - #24 Michael Carrera, 6-5 214 So. (8.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg)
F - #21 Demetrius Henry, 6-9 215 Fr. (9.0 ppg, 5.8 mpg)
F - #25 Mindaugas Kacinas, 6-7 210 So. (8.0 ppg, 9.3 rpg)
Oklahoma State
G - #33 Marcus Smart, 6-4 220 So. (20.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg)
F - #2 Le'Bryan Nash, 6-7 235 Jr. (12.5 ppg, 5.9 rpg)
F - #4 Brian Williams, 6-5 210 R-Jr. (10.3 ppg, 4.1 rpg)
F - #20 Michael Cobbins, 6-8 230 R-Jr. (4.5 ppg. 5.0 rpg)
F - #22 Markel Brown, 6-3 190 Sr. (16.9 ppg, 4.3 rpg)
Next game: USC faces Manhattan on Dec. 17 at 7 p.m.
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