Sports

Gamecock Hoops: South Carolina’s Dream Season Rolls On

Lamont Paris has South Carolina surging …

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After knocking off No. 6 Kentucky last Tuesday and defeating Missouri over the weekend, the University of South Carolina men’s basketball team – off to its hottest start in years – figured to be ranked among the nation’s elite programs this week.

They weren’t …

The Gamecocks narrowly missed making The Associated Press’ Top 25 poll – finishing one spot out of the rankings. In the USA Today Coaches’ poll, they were three spots out of the Top 25.

How did they respond to these snubs? Easy: By claiming their biggest victory of the season – and their first road victory over a top five opponent since 1997. South Carolina’s 63-59 win over No. 5 Tennessee in Knoxville was paced by graduate guard Ta’Lon Cooper – who led the team with eighteen points and drilled a clutch three-pointer with just forty seconds on the clock to help clinch the upset in front of a hostile crowd of more than 20,000.

Graduate forward B.J. Mack added sixteen points while junior guard Myles Stute chipped in thirteen points as he appeared in his first game since injuring his shoulder two weeks ago.

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Tuesday night’s Gamecock win marked only the second time this season an unranked team defeated a top five opponent at home – although seems unlikely the term “unranked” will apply to the Gamecocks (18-3, 6-2 SEC) for much longer.

“Our group just battled,” said head coach Lamont Paris, who continues silencing his critics after he was basically hired as a fallback plan by athletics director Ray Tanner in March of 2022. Paris’ first team went 11-21 (4-14 SEC) a year ago – and his second team was picked to finish dead last in the conference after losing its top player, GG Jackson, to the NBA draft.

Astonishingly, the Gamecocks are now on the cusp of the national rankings as they continue building an impressive NCAA tournament resume. And Paris? He is (rightfully) receiving major buzz for coach of the year honors as he seeks to lead this program to the Big Dance for the first time since 2017 – when it reached the Final Four.

The key to South Carolina’s success? A stultifying defense. Through 20 games, South Carolina was giving up just 64.4 points per contest – ranking the program No. 1 in the SEC and No. 27 nationally (out of 351 programs). They improved on that against the Volunteers, holding head coach Rick Barnes’ team to a season-low 59 points as Tennessee sustained its first home loss of the 2023-2024 campaign.

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As I’ve often noted, there’s a huge difference in silencing your critics and proving them wrong – something South Carolina head football coach Shane Beamer learned the hard way in 2023.

But Paris has his squad firing on all cylinders – as a team – with four players now averaging in double figures on offense in addition to their aforementioned defensive prowess. The hottest hand of late has been Cooper – who has scored in double-figures in each of his last four games and gone 11-of-15 from behind the three-point arc over that stretch.

Hoping to keep it rolling, South Carolina will travel to Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Georgia this weekend (Saturday, February 3, 2024) to face Georgia (14-6, 4-3 SEC) – a team which defeated the Gamecocks on their home court two weeks ago. Tip off is scheduled for 1:00 p.m. EST with the SEC Network providing national television coverage.

If the Gamecocks defeat the Bulldogs, they would be assured of their first national ranking since week fifteen of the 2016-2017 season, when they were ranked No. 21.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

(Travis Bell Photography)

Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina and before that he was a bass guitarist and dive bar bouncer. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and eight children.

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1 comment

Only Weak Men Cry Over "Woke" January 31, 2024 at 8:36 am

Dawn Staley and the women’s basketball team is doing stellar too, but Dawn says things that hurts the right’s feefees so we don’t talk about them.

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