Head coach Frank Martin is reluctant to say specifically why senior guard Sindarius Thornwell was indefinitely suspended or when he will return to the basketball court, but neither he nor the remaining Gamecock players are wallowing in self-pity over the temporary loss of their team leader.
With four of the next six games away from Colonial Life Arena, Martin says USC must focus on the team in the absence of Thornwell, who was suspended shortly before last Sunday’s 70-54 home win over FIU.
“It’s a team effort. I’ve always believed you prepare your team to play, not prepare your team to depend on individuals,” Martin said. “We like to prepare our team and depend on who we are, not on any one player. But one guy is not going to step in and be Sindarius. There is a reason he started and all the guys backed him up.”
Thornwell should return to the Gamecocks this season, Martin insisted, describing his mistake resulting in the indefinite suspension as a “mental injury.”
“He’ll be back,” Martin said. “He has earned equity around here. He has handled this the right way. Obviously, he’s down. But he’s not going to allow his spirit to be broken. And his teammates are not going to allow his spirits to be broken. Sindarius has been unbelievable since last season ended as far as instilling his personality into this basketball team. That has continued.”
While awaiting reinstatement, Thornwell will participate in practices and travel with the team and “do everything other than playing the game.”
“Sindarius has earned my respect and my trust for who he is,” Martin said. “It’s no different than my own son. We’re preparing these guys for life. I’m extremely proud of who Sindarius is and that he’s a part of our team. He’ll grow up from this.”
Martin eyes Justin McKie and other players stepping up and playing "starter” minutes until Thornwell returns, along with Duane Notice, Chris Silva, Maik Kotsar and P.J. Dozier making a greater contribution.
Notice scored 27 points on 9-of-14 shooting, including 6-of-10 on 3-point attempts, in Sunday’s win over FIU.
“There are more opportunities for (Notice),” Martin said. “There are more for Chris, there’s more for Maik, there’s more for P.J. Collectively, they all have to grab an extra rebound and come up with an extra assist each.
“They all have to figure out how to score one more basket each than what they have been doing. It’s a wonderful opportunity for others to step forward and embrace more responsibility. That will only make us a stronger team moving forward.”
Asking established players to contribute a little more following the loss of a key player of Thornwell’s stature is more realistic than asking somebody not familiar with playing 20 or 30 minutes a game to increase their production significantly, Martin said.
“We have to come out and compete,” Dozier said. “These games continue to go on. We have the strength as a team to pick his role up and for guys to take on different challenges. Guys have to step up. That’s what we have been doing.”
With McKie moving into the starting lineup, how Martin utilizes the bench could change.
“Where it gets interesting, and this is my job, is how you manage the bench minutes,” Martin said. “Who becomes the Justin (McKie) that was coming off the bench and gives you 20 minutes? Different responsibilities have to be divvied up to different people.”
Unlike the FIU game, the Gamecocks have had all week to prepare for the next game.
“The good thing is we have had all week to try and prepare our team to play without Sindarius,” Martin said.
Late last season, leading scorer and rebounder Michael Carrera suffered a groin injury and missed the final regular season game at Arkansas. The Gamecocks thrashed the Razorbacks in Fayetteville, building a 27-point lead in the second half before cruising to a 15-point win.
“Michael was the heart and soul of last year’s team and we went into Arkansas, one of the harder places to play, and our guys played pretty well,” Martin said. “We figured out a way to win.”
The Gamecocks face Seton Hall Monday night at Madison Square Garden in New York City in the nightcap of the Under Armour Reunion doubleheader. Auburn plays Boston College at 6:30 p.m.
Road tests at USF (Dec. 17) and Memphis (Dec. 30) sandwich a two-game homestand against Clemson (Dec. 21) and Lander (Dec. 27) before the start of SEC play in early January.
-- Injury plagued TeMarcus Blanton remains sidelined with a strained groin suffered in practice following the upset win over Syracuse. Blanton has played just 14 minutes in eight games this season after stepping onto the court for only 32 minutes in 2015-16. Earlier this season, he missed the SC State and Michigan games due to an abdominal strain. “Groins and hamstrings are the worst,” Martin said. “He feels a lot better, but he is still not practicing.” Blanton will travel with the team to NYC.
-- Freshman Sedee Keita, one of the crown jewels of the 2016-17 recruiting class, has seen his minutes steadily increase since debuting against Michigan on Nov. 23. He played a season-high 19 minutes and scored six points on Sunday in the FIU win.
-- Martin said he is contemplating playing the 6-foot-10, 245-pound Kotsar at the three spot (wing player). Kotsar is shooting 70.2 percent (33-47) from the floor through the first eight games. “We’re going back and forth with that,” Martin said.
NEXT FIVE GAMES:
Dec. 12 vs. Seton Hall (at New York City), 9 p.m.
Dec. 17 at USF, 1 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)
Dec. 21 CLEMSON, 9 p.m. (ESPNU)
Dec. 27 LANDER, 7 p.m. (SEC Network)
Dec. 30 at Memphis, 9 p.m. (ESPNU)