For the last thirteen years, the University of South Carolina women’s basketball program has been a fixture in the national rankings. More often than not, they’ve been a fixture at the top of the national rankings. Head coach Dawn Staley has won a pair of national titles – and would have captured a third were it not for the Covid-19 pandemic. Her 2023-2024 team is cruising, too, winning 21 in row to start the season en route to the No. 1 national ranking.
As for the Gamecock men’s basketball program, recent history has been substantially less impressive.
After a historic trip to the Final Four in 2017, things fell apart for former head coach Frank Martin – who was fired in March 2022 after ten seasons at the helm of the program. Martin was replaced by Lamont Paris – reportedly the fourth choice for the job – whose first team went 11-21 (4-14 SEC) a year ago and lost its leading scorer, GG Jackson, to the NBA draft.
Not surprisingly, Paris’ 2023-2024 squad was picked to finish dead last in the SEC.
Someone forgot to tell Paris and his players they weren’t supposed to be any good … or maybe they did tell them, and that’s what is motivating them. Through 22 games, South Carolina has raced to a 19-3 record – including a 7-2 mark in the SEC. Within the last two weeks, the Gamecocks have upset then-No. 6 Kentucky at home and then-No. 5 Tennessee on the road – while avenging their only home loss of the season by defeating Georgia on the road.
Last week, they were dissed in the national rankings.
Not this week …
South Carolina hasn’t experienced the rarified air of the national rankings since week fifteen of the 2016-2017 season, when they were ranked No. 21. In fact, this year’s 19-3 start is the program’s best record at this point in a season since the 2015-2016 season. Only that squad at the 1969-70 squad has ever started a year 20-3 or better.
As noted last month, South Carolina’s success is built around one of the nation’s stingiest defenses. Through 22 games, Paris’ squad ranked No. 17 nationally in scoring defense – giving up only 64.1 points per game. On the offensive side of the ball, teamwork has made this “dreamwork” – with well-executed offensive schemes, zone-busted three-point shooting and unselfish distribution of the rock paving the way to a balanced, consistent attack.
Pacing that attack is junior guard Meechie Johnson of Cleveland, Ohio. Johnson leads the team with 14.9 points per game – just ahead of graduate transfer forward B.J. Mack of Charlotte, N.C., who is averaging 13.8 points per game (to go with a team-leading 5.1 rebounds per game). Graduate guard Ta’Lon Cooper of Roebuck, S.C. is next with 10.3 points per game (to go with a team-leading 4.4 assists per game).
In keeping with the “teamwork” theme, South Carolina has seen invaluable contributions from its bench – including getting 15 points from senior forward Josh Gray in last weekend’s road win over Georgia. Gray has averaged 8.2 points and 5.6 rebounds per game over the last five contests for the Gamecocks.
Paris’ team looks to keep things rolling tomorrow night with a “whiteout” game at home versus Ole Miss (18-4, 5-4 SEC) – one of the conference’s top programs. Fans attending are encouraged to wear white at Tuesday’s game, which will be televised nationally on the SEC Network at 6:30 p.m. EST. Roy Philpott will handle play-by-play duties while Jimmy Dykes will provide color commentary.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
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 seven (soon to be eight) children.
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