SEC

South Carolina head coach Frank Martin gestures from the bench during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Vanderbilt Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016, in Columbia, S.C.  (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)
(AP Photo/Sean Rayford)

No. 22 South Carolina remains unbeaten with win over Vandy

Leave a comment

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) Sindarius Thornwell had 19 points and eight rebounds and No. 22 South Carolina remained undefeated with a 69-65 victory over Vanderbilt on Saturday.

South Carolina (15-0, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) passed its first tough test of the season, taking its first lead on PJ Dozier’s floater with 10:54 left. Dozier then hit a reverse layup as the rare near sellout crowd at Colonial Life Center roared.

Dozier scored seven of his nine points over the next 5 minutes and the Gamecocks held off Vanderbilt (8-7, 0-3) with good defense. The Commodores missed 19 of their last 22 shots.

South Carolina and SMU are the only unbeaten teams left in Division I. South Carolina has only reached 15 wins in three of its past 10 seasons.

Riley Lachance and Wade Baldwin IV each had 13 points for Vanderbilt.

The Commodores built an 8-0 lead less than 2 minutes in as Luke Kornet hit back-to-back 3-pointers and Damien Jones had a putback.

The deficit was the largest South Carolina had faced all season. The Gamecocks also trailed for 19:45 of the first half, which was more time than they had been behind in any game.

But South Carolina kept it close. Five times the Gamecocks were down one and failed to take the lead.

Once South Carolina took over, though, Vanderbilt couldn’t respond. Nolan Cressler fouled out with 7:55 left and Jones got his fifth foul with 6:34 to go. Baldwin also fouled out at the end as the Commodores sent South Carolina to the line.

Free throws kept Vanderbilt in it. The Commodores made 11 foul shots during the final 14 minutes.

TIP-INS

Vanderbilt: Kornet returned to the starting lineup for the Commodores for the first time since injuring his knee in practice Dec. 8. He scored eight points. … Vanderbilt was picked to finish second in the SEC, but has started 0-3 in the league for the first time since 2013.

South Carolina: The Gamecocks’ 15-0 start is their best since the 1933-34 season. That team also shares South Carolina’s longest winning streak of 17 games with the 1969-70 team that went undefeated in the Atlantic Coast Conference before losing in the tournament. … This is only the third time in 25 SEC seasons the Gamecocks have started with two league wins.

UP NEXT

Vanderbilt hosts Auburn on Tuesday night.

South Carolina travels to Alabama on Wednesday night.

VIDEO: South Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell crushes Clemson defender on dunk

Leave a comment

South Carolina moved to 10-0 on the season on Friday night as they were able to outlast in-state rival Clemson. Junior wing Sindarius Thornwell put down one of the better poster dunks of the early season by throwing it down on Clemson’s Landry Nnoko.

The former four-star recruit has been an important player for the Gamecocks the last three seasons as he’s averaging 11.7 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4 assists per game on the season.

 

Beard set to make return to action for Arkansas after arrest

Marcus Paige, Anton Beard
Associated Press
Leave a comment

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) Arkansas point guard Anton Beard will make his return to the court on Saturday after missing the season’s first nine games following a summer arrest on forgery charges.

Beard, named to the Southeastern Conference’s All-Freshman team last season for the Razorbacks (5-4), was arrested in July after Fayetteville police said he was seen using and exchanging counterfeit $20 and $50 bills.

He entered a pre-trial diversion program last month in an attempt to avoid prosecution, and Saturday’s game in North Little Rock with Mercer (8-2) will mark the end of his semester-long suspension.

“He feels grateful to have the opportunity still to be here,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. “I am sure there are a lot of things he wants to correct. How do you correct that? By going out and doing the right thing. So, it’s a life lesson for him.”

Beard averaged 5.8 points in 18.9 minutes per game last season for the Razorbacks, who were 27-9 and finished runner-up in the SEC. He started the season’s final 16 games, including a pair in the NCAA Tournament, and he shot 35.2 percent on 3-pointers while also averaging a steal per game.

The 6-foot point guard wasn’t made available to speak publicly before his season debut, but Anderson said he’s been practicing with the Razorbacks for the last two weeks in preparation for his first game.

Arkansas has struggled at times this season to replace last season’s SEC Player of the Year, Bobby Portis, as well as second-leading scorer Michael Qualls. The Razorbacks were 2-3 following a pair of losses to Georgia Tech and Stanford in New York, but they have won three of four games since.

Without Beard, point guard Jabril Durham has flourished while averaging a team-high 30.8 minutes per game. The senior is second in the country with an average of 8.1 assists per game, and he’s also averaging nearly two steals per game.

Anderson said while Beard’s return will cut into Durham’s minutes somewhat, he expects both to become more efficient with their play – and that the two are likely to see action at the same time as Arkansas tries to extend its winning streak to three games.

“He’s not the savior,” Anderson said of Beard. “He’s just going to be a guy that’s going to come in and try to get back into the rhythm of things, because right now our guys are playing at a pretty good level.”

Defense, rebounding cost LSU in loss at Houston

Johnny Jones
Associated Press
Leave a comment

Having lost the biggest games on their non-conference schedule to date, LSU entered Sunday’s game at Houston in a position where they could ill-afford any more losses before the start of SEC play. But thanks to issues on the defensive end of the floor Johnny Jones’ team suffered its fourth loss of the season, falling 105-98 in overtime at Hoffheinz Pavilion.

Ben Simmons fouling out late in regulation did the Tigers no favors in the extra session, which came as a result of a Keith Hornsby three-pointer with nine seconds remaining in regulation. But when you defend and rebound at the level that LSU did Sunday night, it’s tough to win close games.

Houston shot 51.4 percent from the field and grabbed 17 offensive rebounds, converting those opportunities into 20 second-chance points. The played who posed the biggest issue for LSU in this regard was junior forward Chicken Knowles, who accounted for 20 points and nine rebounds before fouling out with six of his boards coming on the offensive end.

Houston scored 50 points in the paint Sunday night, taking advantage of numerous defensive breakdowns in the process. Those points came from second-chance opportunities and dribble penetration, with guard Rob Gray Jr. hitting multiple floaters on his way to a career-high 31 points. That all isn’t on the shoulders of the LSU big men given Houston’s ability to get quality looks off the dribble, but the Tigers need more from the likes of Aaron Epps (12 points) and Elbert Robinson III as they combined for four rebounds in the game.

The addition of Arizona transfer Craig Victor will help LSU in the front court; besides Simmons they don’t have much in the way of consistent production on the glass in the paint (Epps and Robinson average a combined six rebounds per game). But the Tigers’ issues when it comes to their lack of attention to detail, which was once again evident against Houston, cannot be solved by the arrival of one player.

That’s going to be a collective effort, and to this point in the season LSU hasn’t shown the ability to do this against quality competition on a consistent basis.

The offense is there, and the return of Hornsby is a big deal for a team that had issues with perimeter shooting. Hornsby scored 32 points, shooting 6-for-10 from three with his teammates combining to shot 3-for-16 from deep. Simmons added 13 points, 14 rebounds and five assists before fouling out, and Quarterman accounted for 27 points, ten rebounds and six assists off the bench (disciplinary reasons).

For all the talk about Simmons’ individual gifts and how his game translates to the next level, there’s work to be done at the college level first. And if Simmons and his teammates are to have any shot at getting to the NCAA tournament, they have to straighten things out on the defensive end.

No. 5 Kentucky pulls away thanks to improved second-half execution

(AP Photo/James Crisp)
Associated Press
2 Comments

A Kodi Justice three-pointer in the final seconds of the first half capped a mediocre 20 minutes for No. 5 Kentucky. While they did hold a one-point lead at that point, the Wildcats looked nothing like one of the nation’s top teams. Whatever John Calipari and his staff said to the players in the locker room got through to the players, as the Wildcats produced a far better half of basketball on their way to the 72-58 victory in Lexington.

And moving forward, the key for Kentucky will be putting together quality performances for a full forty minutes as opposed to doing so in fits and spurts.

A 19-5 second half run put the game out of reach for the visiting Sun Devils, who grabbed nearly half of their available offensive rebound opportunities (eight offensive rebounds to nine defensive rebounds for Kentucky) in the first half. Arizona State did grab seven offensive rebounds in the second half, but thanks to Marcus Lee and Alex Poythress (four defensive rebounds each) the Wildcats did a better job of limiting the visitors to one shot.

Those defensive rebounds helped the Wildcats establish a better flow on the offensive end, with Kentucky scoring 20 of their 40 second-half points in the paint and shooting 57.7 percent from the field.

Poythress (ten points, six rebounds) left the game in the first half with a hyperextended right knee (not the one he injured last season) after playing some of his best basketball of the season, and with Skal Labissiere once again ineffective (zero points, zero rebounds) the senior’s absence was felt. Since the start of the season Calipari’s been on Poythress to be more athletic on the court, because he has the potential to change the equation offensively for the Wildcats.

Lee, who’s been effective this season, finished Saturday’s game with 14 points and seven rebounds and has been an important piece for the Wildcats in the front court. But with the strides Labissiere still needs to make being greater than many anticipated before the season began, Poythress’ aggressiveness is an important factor for Kentucky moving forward. They missed him when he wasn’t on the court, with Arizona State hitting the offensive glass, and that changed for the better when he returned.

Another positive in the second half for Kentucky was their perimeter shooting, as they made five of their ten attempts from three after shooting 1-for-11 in the first half. Arizona State used a zone at times, and unlike the first half in which Kentucky settled offensively they were more disciplined in finding quality looks. The Wildcats have capable shooters in Tyler Ulis (12 points, six assists), Jamal Murray (17 points) and Isaiah Briscoe, but they don’t have a consistent knockdown guy.

That makes the quality of shots they get that much more important, and in the second half thanks to their improved execution the Wildcats averaged 1.14 points per possession (0.87 first half).

Given the combination of new pieces and guys who were supplementary options a season ago stepping into primary roles, this is going to be a work in progress. Kentucky took some positive steps in their half-court offense in the second half Saturday, which allowed them to pull away from Arizona State. And as they continue to work on that aspect of their game, the Wildcats need to figure out how to get their prized freshman big man going.

Tennessee won’t have Hubbs for game with No. 18 Butler

Robert Hubbs III, Ed Morrow
Associated Press
1 Comment

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Tennessee guard Robert Hubbs won’t play Saturday at No. 18 Butler as he recovers from arthroscopic surgery to his right knee.

School officials had indicated Hubbs was doubtful for the Butler game after he underwent the procedure on Dec. 1. Tennessee coach Rick Barnes updated Hubbs’ situation Thursday by saying the 6-foot-4 junior “is making good progress, but he’s not going to be ready for this one.”

Barnes didn’t know when Hubbs might return to action. Hubbs is averaging 15.3 points and 3.7 rebounds per game for Tennessee (4-3).

The trip to Butler (7-1) ends a 13-day break from games for Tennessee, which represents the program’s longest layoff during a season since December 1967.