South Carolina-Alabama Preview
South Carolina is two wins from equaling the best start in school history, and while its next two opponents don't appear to be streak-stopper material, neither did its last.
After a tight home game against a questionable foe, the 19th-ranked Gamecocks head to Alabama on Wednesday night hoping for a smoother next step as they emerge onto the national radar.
The Gamecocks (15-0, 2-0 SEC) are off to their best start since 1933-34 when they won their first 17 games, tied with a midseason winning streak in 1969-70 for the longest in school history. Three days after they face Alabama - winless in SEC play and the conference's lowest-scoring team - they host a Missouri team which is 0-6 away from home.
South Carolina and SMU are the only unbeaten teams left in Division I, but it didn't look very good for the Gamecocks early in Saturday's 69-65 win over Vanderbilt.
"You know you're in league play when you win a game like you did on Saturday, and by Sunday morning before church you're already worked up and consumed and concerned with the next opportunity," coach Frank Martin said.
The Commodores had lost five of seven but jumped out to an 8-0 lead - the largest deficit the Gamecocks have faced all season - and were up 38-35 at halftime. Junior Sindarius Thornwell, though, drew a distinction between this team's reaction and what it likely would have been in previous seasons.
"In the past, it would have gotten ugly. Eight would have turned into 16," said Thornwell, who had a game-high 19 points.
In three games since the calendar flipped, the guard is averaging 19.7 points and shooting 50.0 percent after posting marks of 10.8 and 33.6 through 12 games. Thornwell now needs backcourt mate and No. 2 scorer Duane Notice to get back on track after he shot 29.4 percent in the last four games.
That's hardly soured Martin's mood. After going 45-54 in his first three seasons at South Carolina and not finishing better than 11th in the SEC, Martin is finally having fun again.
"They've got me on a ride right now that is unreal," he said.
South Carolina has won two of the past three meetings but dropped the last three in Tuscaloosa. Thornwell was limited to an average of 5.0 points on 3-of-22 shooting in two matchups last season.
Alabama (9-5, 0-2) has split four games with the Top 25 this season, including Saturday's 77-61 home loss to then-No. 9 Kentucky as its losing streak against ranked SEC teams grew to 16.
The Crimson Tide held a third straight opponent below 30 percent from 3-point range but failed to reach 70 points for a fifth consecutive game, dropping their season average to 66.0.
"We did a good job of defending the 3-point line tonight, but our interior defense just wasn't there, and then offensively we're still a work in progress in terms of trying to become a balanced team," coach Avery Johnson told the school's official website.
Leading scorer Retin Obasohan topped 20 points for a third straight game, shooting 53.5 percent with seven 3-pointers in that span. The senior is averaging 14.6 points, up from 7.8 over the previous two seasons.
Alabama got within four in the second half but shot 34.6 percent overall and made 18 field goals or fewer for the sixth time. Kentucky was the first team to shoot higher than 46.7 percent (54.9) against the Crimson Tide.
"Especially when you go on a run against a good team, you've got to be aware of the fact that they're going to attack back," Obasohan said. "We just have to a better job of executing offensively and defensively and capitalizing on the run that we made."