Frank Martin sat down for his postgame press conference after South Carolina’s win over Ole Miss on Jan. 14 and let out a little sigh before he started talking.
“Obviously,” he startedslowly,"offensively, we’re a work in progress."
That was the fourth game after the return of senior Sindarius Thornwell (he missed six games because of a suspension), and Martin’s Gamecocks had won all four contests, but the coach wasn’t happy. See, he’d just watched his team turn the ball over 20 times against the Rebels — 12 different players had at least one — and watched his Gamecocks make only 20 of their 55 field-goal attempts (36.4 percent), including 5 of 20 from 3-point range. It was a win, sure, but it was a sloppy win.
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I was at Colonial Life Arena that evening as a capper for my annual college hoops road trip. My day started at Clemson’s game, included a pit stop to catch a trout in the Lake Murray tailwaters, and moved to Columbia for the final leg. I didn’t write about it at the time, but Martin’s postgame presser stood out to me. Even though there were plenty of reasons for frustration, the often bombastic coach struck a positive tone for the future.
And after his Gamecocks stunned No. 2 seed Duke 88-81 in the NCAA Tournament on Sunday night, I pulled up that interview on my phone and gave it a listen. It was like looking back at a crystal ball, if a crystal ball could talk (or, y’know, had real powers). Anyway, thought I’d share a bit now.
On resiliency …
From Martin's opening remarks: “The one good thing, other than winning, that I take from today’s game is that even though we couldn’t get lined up and we couldn’t make a shot, we rebounded the ball and it never took away the steam with the effort and the discipline we played defense. In the past, that’s been a problem for us. We’d have bad dry spells, we’d miss dinks, we’d stop rebounding, and then it takes away our energy defensively. That didn’t happen today.”
Against Duke, South Carolina made only 7 of 35 field-goal attempts in the first half. That’s horrendously bad, even by the Gamecocks’standard (they shot 41.8 percent on the season).
But they rebounded the ball in that first half — they had 12 offensive rebounds — and they played defense with effort and discipline. If most teams make only seven field goals against that high-powered Duke offense, they’d find themselves buried. But the Gamecocks trailed by just seven.
Because they didn’t let their mistakes compound — and they kept their effort and discipline — they stayed in the game.
On Chris Silva …
Martin was asked about the progress of Silva, the 6-9 sophomore who had 16 points and 11 rebounds against Ole Miss one game after playing only 11 minutes at Tennessee because of foul trouble. Martin: “I had a conversation with him yesterday and he said, ‘Coach, I came here because I want to be coached, so please keep pushing me.’ You know, that’s the kind of kid he is. He’s very genuine.”
As a freshman, Silva averaged more fouls per game (3.1) than made field goals (1.7). That ratio improved this year, but it’s still far from where it needs to be (3.8 fouls, 3.3 field goals per game).
Chris Silva soars for a dunk against Duke. (Getty Images)
Martin continued: “Like I tell him, I say, ‘Chris, it might be unfair, but you need to play better. You need to make better decisions on the court.’ And I understand sometimes you get to grow up one step at a time, and sometimes life makes you grow up a lot faster than you want to. Well, for this team to be good, we need him to grow up a little faster than the normal pace most guys grow up at. And he’s doing it. He’s embracing it. As he continues to stay out of foul trouble and continues to understand what we’re doing, I think you’re seeing he can be an unbelievably impactful player.”
Yeah. The inconsistency — caused primarily by foul trouble — continued for Silva after that Ole Miss game. Think about this: In South Carolina’s 16 games between the Ole Miss win and the Duke contest, Silva either fouled out or had four fouls 13 times. Despite being an important part of the game plan, because of those foulshe played more than 25 minutes just four times.
Against Duke on Sunday night? Silva stayed out of foul trouble (he finished with three), so he stayed on the court. The result? In 30 minutes, he scored 17 points and had 10 rebounds. He was a catalyst for South Carolina’s 65-point second half, too — Silva was 5 for 7 from the field and scored 13 points after the break, committing just one foul in 17 minutes.
Yeah, that’s a pretty impactful player.
On putting the ball in the basket …
Martin was asked in January what he thought of his team going forward: “Playing hard saves you from bad shooting nights. To be able to win, and win at a high level? You have to be able to line up and you have to be able to make shots.”
Playing hard for those 20 cold-shooting minutes saved the Gamecocks. In the second half, they lined up and made shots. Lots and lots of shots. In fact, South Carolina made 71.4 percent of its shots in the second half (20 of 28) and blitzed past a rather stunned Duke team, a squad that lots of smart basketball people thought were a favorite to win the national championship.
And now Martin and his Gamecocks are in the Sweet 16. That’s winning at a pretty darn high level, I'd say.