Gamecocks look to make miracle run as SEC Tournament tips off in Nashville

The No. 11 seeded South Carolina Gamecocks and coach Frank Martin will be out to stabilize their largely up-and-down season when they face the Missouri Tigers in the opening round of the SEC Tournament Wednesday night at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.

Just which Gamecock team will show up seems anyone’s guess. After a 9-3 start to the year, the Gamecocks have struggled to a 6-12 finish to close the year at 15-15 and 6-12 in the SEC. But over their last eight SEC games, they went 4-4 and appeared to be gaining confidence by the ballgame.

As has been the case for the last month of the season, South Carolina will be forced to play without the services of starter Demetrius Henry (six points, four rebounds) and one-time key reserve Shamiek Sheppard (two points, two rebounds), both having been suspended for conduct deemed detrimental to the team.

But one thing Martin and his men can almost certainly count on is their airtight defense. Over their last five games, two of them victories, the Gamecocks have held their opponents to just 52 points or less on three different occasions.

Against the struggling Tigers, that could be enough, especially if Missouri is able to get the scoring from the trio of Duane Notice (12 points, three assists), Sindarius Thornwell (11, five rebounds) and Tyrone Johnson (10 points, four assists) they’ve come to depend on. The Gamecocks also rank as one of the SEC’s top offensive-rebounding squads, ranking this in the conference at 12.2 per game.

With the Tigers’ offense having struggled all season, averaging just 57 points per game, Missouri almost seems like a tailor-made opponent for South Carolina. The Tigers haven’t topped 70 points since Valentine’s Day, a span of six games, and have yet to top 80 at the point this season.

“We’re in a very, very good place,” Martin told USA Today of his team’s psyche. “Our guys are excited. Our guys are playing well.”

A win or two could also assure the Gamecocks of posting their first winning season in six years and guarantee them a chance to play into the postseason, namely the NIT. It would be a great time to visit the “Music City” and catch SEC tournament basketball. Hipmunk will provide you with your Nashville flight options, along with a collection of hotels in Nashville to help you enjoy as much basketball as possible.

“When we make out shots, when we play well and do what we’re supposed to do we can play with anyone in this conference,” said Johnson.