The good, the bad, and the fugly. There was a whole lot of the latter in the second half as the Gamecocks just dominated play for over 12 minutes to bury the Tigers. The good vibes created by back to back SEC victories went completely down the tubes as the Tigers just didn't even show up out of the locker room in the second half. This was a major warning sign for the team going forward when facing an opponent with good strength and size inside. The Gamecocks got Landry Nnoko off the floor and proceeded to dominate the paint. Once Clemson started having to help more inside, USCjr got hot from the perimeter. Meanwhile, the Tiger offense was absolutely pathetic against both man to man and zone. A bad day at the office all the way around.
The first half went as I thought the entire game would go with both teams going on little runs and looking pretty even. After playing nearly even to the first TV timeout, the Gamecocks showed off their aggressive man to man approach with heavy overplay on the wings and in the post. Frank Martin's entire philosophy is to limit passing and ball movement and force the dribble drive. The Tigers stuggled to get any traction for a bit and the Gamecocks were able to push out to a 10 point lead using drives and kicks along with offensive rebounding to score. Brad Brownell then switched to a 2-3 zone and the Gamecocks were befuddled for the rest of the half. A great spurt of play from Demarcus Harrison got the Tigers going and eventually back in front before the half. A monster one hand tomahawk facial for the "and 1" helped ignite the team and Harrison followed that up with 2 big three pointers. This offset the fact that Landry Nnoko got himself in foul trouble and had to sit a good portion of the first half. Jaron Blossomgame was also effective with both his drive and even knocking down a 3. The Tigers had to feel good about their position up 2 at the half.
The game really turned very early in the second half as Landry Nnoko quickly got himself sent back to the bench with a quick foul. The Tigers were forced to use a lot of Djitte, but he also picked up his 3rd and 4th fouls before the 12 minute mark of the 2nd half. The lack of depth in the post became glaring as the Gamecock Euro's, Henry, and short shorts Carrera proceeded to have their way on the glass and defensively blocking or altering many of the shot attempts inside. Rod Hall tried too hard to get things going by driving repeatedly into two and three men for shots that were blocked. It is imperative to get the ball swung prior to driving against Martin's defensive scheme to affect the help defense, but that wasn't happening. After that, the Tigers proceeded to settle for perimeter shots and bricked away with non existent offensive rebounding off those misses. The Gamecocks were able to then attack in transition for some easy scores and more trips to the free throw line. Once Martin sensed the Tigers were going to settle for jumpers, he shifted to a 1-2-2 zone and Clemson went one shot and out time and again with very little effort to attack the gaps of the zone or throw it inside. The cold hard fact is Clemson has one real back to the basket player on the roster and it is Nnoko. The backbreaker was a contested 3 that Duane Notice knocked down over Harrison to push the lead to 13 and when Brownell went back to Nnoko, he picked up his fourth foul almost immediately on a foolish push off inside and had to go right back to the bench. It was really academic at that point as the Tigers showed very little defensive fight to get themselves back in the game.
This game really highlighted the problems this team has this year. The team is entirely too dependent upon the first five to get things done. Where is the bench production for this team? Roper has been pretty terrible and even missed a dunk on a breakaway, Ajukwa hasn't shown any growth from last year, Rooks got in and put up two airball three's and a wild shot in the lane, DeVoe got in and nearly put a hole in the backboard on a three, and Josh Smith is always going to struggle facing a big and powerful front line like the Gamecocks have. He wasn't seeing the floor until Brad had to play him thanks to the fouls on Nnoko and Djitte. Clemson can get away with Blossomgame and Grantham at the power forward against some teams, but not in this matchup. Neither are developed enough post scorers and have to rely on stepping guys out and driving. Clemson isn't going to have success if the first group struggles at all or gets into foul trouble. It appeared to me the team just quit really competing when the lead got to 15. Clemson's normal advantage on the glass was totally erased by Carolina whose biggest strength is rebounding. This doesn't bode well when the Tigers face teams like UNC and UVA who can pound the glass.
In the end, the numbers were fugly: sub 30% shooting from the floor, 4-19 from 3, outrebounded 40-30, more FT's made by USC than Clemson attempted, 17 assists for the 'Cocks against 7 for Clemson, and a whopping 12 points combined off the bench against 19 for USCjr. Landry Nnoko had more fouls than points, rebounds, and blocks combined. Rod Hall put up a putrid 1-8 from the floor with 5 turnovers to only 3 assists. Once again, the common thread in all the Tiger losses has been Rod Hall getting outplayed as Tyrone Johnson put up 9 assists to just 2 turnovers while outscoring Hall 4 to 2. It is a wonder the loss wasn't by 40 considering only 2 of the Tiger starters played anywhere close to good.
Now Brownell and staff are left to pick up the pieces as the murderous row of games to start the ACC looms on the horizon. It must begin with Rod Hall realizing he just cannot have bad days at the office for this team to have a chance. Nnoko has to stay on the floor and somebody, ANYBODY, must emerge as a consistent option off the bench.