Gamecocks start strutting with 2-game streak

By: Bob Holt
Published: Tuesday, February 18, 2014
Tennessee forward Jeronne Maymon (34) and South Carolina guard Sindarius Thornwell (0) tangle for a rebound during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014, in Knoxville, Tenn. Tennessee won 72-53. (AP Photo/Knoxville News Sentinel, Adam Lau)
Tennessee forward Jeronne Maymon (34) and South Carolina guard Sindarius Thornwell (0) tangle for a rebound during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014, in Knoxville, Tenn. Tennessee won 72-53. (AP Photo/Knoxville News Sentinel, Adam Lau)

FAYETTEVILLE - South Carolina will bring its first SEC winning streak in three seasons into Wednesday night’s game at Arkansas.

OK, so it’s a two-game streak for the Gamecocks with home victories over Alabama and Vanderbilt last week.

But it’s a significant development for South Carolina (10-15, 3-9 SEC) considering it hadn’t posted consecutive SEC victories since January, 2011, when it beat Arkansas and Florida.

The Gamecocks were 9-47 between the sets of back-to-back conference victories, including 4-14 last season when Frank Martin replaced Darrin Horn as South Carolina’s coach.

Martin has a 24-33 record at South Carolina after going 117-54 in five seasons at Kansas State with four NCAA Tournament bids. The Gamecocks have four NCAA Tournament bids since 1975.

“When you first get somewhere, you really don’t know some of the issues you’ve got to manage and handle and deal with,” Martin said. “Almost two years in now, I’ve got a much better understanding.

“It’s been challenging at times, but I see so many positives - with our fans, our administration, our school, in recruiting - that I get more excited every day about what this program can become. We need some breaks to go our way, in recruiting and games and with players growing and balls going into the basket, and we all understand that.”

South Carolina has a player to build around for the future in 6-5 freshmen guard Sindarius Thornwell, who is averaging 17.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists in SEC games. He was named SEC freshmen of the week after averaging20.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists to help the Gamecocks beat Vanderbilt 65-59 and Alabama 67-66.

Thornwell had 19 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists against the Commodores.

“He’s a complete player,” Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings said. “”He can shoot the ball, he can put it on the floor. He’s a guy that likes contact when he’s driving the ball. He’s solid defensively.

“He’s one of those rare guys, I think, as a freshman that really does a little bit of everything - and does it all well.”

Martin said Thornwell is taking on added leadership and defensive roles along with the being South Carolina’s top scorer.

“His growth as a player has been extremely fun to be around,” Martin said. “I know we’re excited for who is, and who he’s becoming.”

Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson said Thornwell is doing for South Carolina what freshman forward Bobby Portis is for the Razorbacks.

“He’s leading their team in scoring, so he’s got the green light,” Anderson said. “He’s playing with a lot of confidence. They recruited him to come there and be an impact player, very much like Bobby is for us.”

Anderson and Martin coached against each other in the Big 12 Conference, when Anderson was at Missouri.Texas A&M’s Billy Kennedy also coached in the Big 12 against Martin before the Aggies moved to the SEC along with Missouri.

South Carolina and Texas A&M split this season, with the Aggies winning 75-67 at College Station, Texas,. and Gamecocks winning 80-52 at Columbia, S.C.

“They’re a physical, bruising, I would say a Big 12 basketball team,” Kennedy said. “Frank’s done a good job in a short amount of time of getting his guys to buy into how he likes to play.

“They’ve got some nice, young players. They’re going to do a good job on the offensive glass. It looks like they’re playing their best basketball at the right time of the year.”

Martin said he believes the SEC has athletic and physical players just as the Big 12 does.

“I just don’t think the SEC gets credit for the physicality and the athleticism in the league,” Martin said. “I mean, you play Florida and you’re not physical, you’ve got no chance. You play Kentucky, you’re not physical, you’ve got no chance.

“We’re starting to get kids to play with the same physicality that our team played with at K-State.”UP NEXT ARKANSAS MEN VS. SOUTH CAROLINA WHEN 8 p.m. Wednesday WHERE Walton Arena, Fayetteville RECORDS Arkansas 16-9, 5-7 SEC. South Carolina 10-15, 3-9 SERIES Arkansas leads 14-11 TELEVISION Comcast Sports Southeast (Cox 119 in Northwest Arkansas) RADIO Razorbacks Sports Network TICKETS $25 lower and upper deck, $20 loft (west end zone above 4th row)

Sports, Pages 20 on 02/18/2014

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