South Carolina Basketball: Week 12 in review

South Carolina basketball had a week for the record books. This dive looks into how exactly that happened for Dawn Staley and Lamont Paris.

Te-Hina Paopao brings the ball up against Kentucky at Colonial Life Arena.
Te-Hina Paopao brings the ball up against Kentucky at Colonial Life Arena. / Jacob Kupferman/GettyImages

South Carolina basketball had an eventful past nine days on the court, filled with continued dominance from the women’s team, and a valley immediately followed by the biggest pinnacle of Lamont Paris’s tenure from the men’s side. Together, the two teams are 33-3, the best combined record in the country. 

In the first game of this week-review’s span, the South Carolina women’s basketball team cruised by Kentucky at home last Monday, winning easily by a score of 98-36, with Ashlyn Watkins’s dunk highlighting a very efficient team performance. 

The Gamecock men first hosted Georgia last Tuesday, but, despite holding a steady lead across the early parts of the second half, fell apart late due to a cold offense and a foul-heavy defense in what turned out to be a 74-69 loss at Colonial Life Arena, the first home loss of the year for the Gamecocks and first home loss overall since the Alabama game last February. 

However, a much-needed bounce-back was on the horizon for the men. They traveled to Fayetteville for an early afternoon game against the reeling Razorbacks and took care of business, winning 77-64 in a game that was never really in doubt, taking advantage of an Arkansas team that seemed uninterested in playing basketball.

Next up for the Gamecock women was a matchup on the road against a Texas A&M team that entered 14-3. By the time the final buzzer sounded, however, it was clear that the Aggies were no match for the top-ranked Gamecocks. In another game in which South Carolina was right near the century mark, the final score ended at a 99-64.

The Gamecock men, however, not to be outdone, did what they do best, upsetting a ranked Kentucky team at home. The more physical team for all 40 minutes was South Carolina, who, like one fan suggested during the court storm, are here to stay. The final score wasn’t all too close, with South Carolina winning 79-62, holding Kentucky below 70 points for the first time all season.

This week, the Gamecock women face, assumedly, their biggest test of the season when they travel to Baton Rouge to take on LSU on Thursday. On Sunday, Dawn Staley’s group plays a sneaky-good Vanderbilt team at home, in what figures to be yet another raucous environment at Colonial Life Arena.

The Gamecock men play Missouri at home this Saturday in a valuable chance to keep moving up the SEC standings after their big win over Kentucky. The Gamecocks have already defeated the Tigers in Columbia, Missouri, this season. The following game, however, is a bit more difficult. South Carolina has to travel to Knoxville to take on No. 5 Tennessee on Tuesday. While the Gamecocks’ win over Kentucky proves they can beat an elite team, Tennessee hasn’t lost at home since getting shocked by Missouri in February of last year. 

South Carolina Basketball Week Review:
Stathead Section

When it comes to defense, Ashlyn Watkins is in a league of her own. She ranks first on the team in defensive box plus/minus with a mark of 9.4, has a block percentage (12.9%) more than double every other Gamecock besides Kamilla Cardoso. 

As a team, the South Carolina women have a 50.03 rating on the SRS (simple rating system), far from LSU’s next-highest rating. In fact, the gap between South Carolina and LSU is larger than the gap between LSU and the 12th-lowest-rated team in the SEC (Missouri). 

Meechie Johnson ranks 3rd in the SEC in TS% amongst players with a usage rate greater than 29.0%, behind only Johni Broome and Tolu Smith. 

The analytics love the Gamecock women. Six players in the SEC have a box plus/minus of 13.0+, and four of those are from South Carolina. (Cardoso, Paopao, Raven Johnson, Hall.)

Despite a slow pace, (just 65 possessions per 40 minutes, slowest in the SEC) the South Carolina men are highly reliant on the three-ball. Their 3PAr of 42.7% ranks in the 84th percentile nationally and 2nd in the SEC behind Alabama. 

Crashing the glass has been paramount to the Gamecock men’s unexpected success this season. The ‘Cocks’ offensive rebounding percentage of 34.7% ranks 4th in the SEC and in the 91st percentile nationally. Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk and Collin Murray-Boyles both have offensive rebounding percentages of 11.8%+. 

On the women’s side, one reason for the dominance of the ‘Cocks has been shooting efficiency. Te-Hina Paopao, Bree Hall, and Kamilla Cardoso all have true shooting percentages between 63.2%-71.1%, ranking first, second, and third in the SEC. No other players in the conference have a TS% over 61.0%. 

Lamont Paris’s group has been gambling on defense often. Their mark of 0.29/1 STL/PF ratio is 13th of 14 teams in the SEC, ahead of only Arkansas, who isn’t really playing basketball at this point in the season. In a vacuum, this is more of a shot toward most of the team’s inability to force steals rather than an issue of the Gamecocks fouling often. The conference’s steal leader, LSU, has 176 on the year, while South Carolina is the only team in the conference to not hit the 90-steal mark yet. Meanwhile, 11 of 14 SEC teams have upwards of 120 steals on the season. 

Along the perimeter, the South Carolina women are the most efficient shooters in the SEC by far. The gap between South Carolina (44.1 3PT%) and 2nd-place Missouri (36.1 3PT%) is larger than the gap between Missouri and the 9th-highest three-point shooting team in the conference, Arkansas at 30.3%. The Gamecock women’s 3PT% is more than three points higher than the best-shooting men’s team, Indiana State at “just” 41.0 3PT%. 

The South Carolina men are benefitting from elite ball movement. They rank 3rd in the SEC in assist percentage, with 58.6% of their made field goals coming off an assist. The Gamecocks’ assist percentage is closer to the highest rate in the country (Kansas with 69.8%) than it is to the lowest rate in the SEC (Vanderbilt at 42.5%). 

South Carolina Basketball Week Review:
Player Profile

On the women’s side, this week’s player profile is a Gamecock who has started all 17 games this year for Dawn Staley’s squad, one of just two players to do so. Dayton, Ohio, native Bree Hall ranks 4th on the team with 10.6 PPG this season, one of four Gamecocks averaging double figures. 

Hall, who has totaled the most minutes on the team (450), ranks 2nd on the team with a 3PT% of 48.5%. On almost any other college basketball team, men’s or women’s, that mark would be the highest on any given team, but Te-Hina Paopao has an absurd 3PT% of 55.8%. Hall is one of the most efficient ball-handlers in the nation, recording just 1.5 turnovers/40 minutes. No other Gamecock on the roster has less than 2.3. 

A lot of Hall’s offensive output comes from the perimeter. The guard only attempts 5.6 2PA/40 minutes, while attempting 6.0 3PA/40 minutes, converting her threes (48.5%) at almost a higher rate than her twos (52.4%). If there is a fault, statistically, in Hall’s game, it’s defense. Her defensive rating of 77.7 (still quite good) is last on the team for the Gamecocks, and her defensive box plus/minus (5.3) is 10th on the team, only ahead of Sahnya Jah. However, within her niche, Bree Hall is an excellent role player and an excellent perimeter threat. 

For the men, this week’s player profile is not a starter. Well, at least not normally. But for the past two games, he’s stepped up and joined Cooper, Johnson, Mack, and Murray-Boyles in the starting lineup. The Gamecocks are 2-0 when Orangeburg native Zachary Davis is on the court for the tip-off.

The lengthy guard leads the ‘Cocks with 1.5 steals per 40 minutes, along with the 2nd-highest defensive rating (98.3) on the team. He’s spent time in a hybrid power-forward role at times throughout the season when Murray-Boyles has been out, which, despite Davis’s thinner frame, hasn’t turned out all too bad for the team. Davis has shown a plus-ability to keep the ball out of the hands of the opposing defense, averaging just 2.3 turnovers/100 possessions, 4th on the team. 

On offense, Davis’s usage rate (13.9%) is the lowest on the team. Five different Gamecocks have usage rates over 20.0%, but Davis still ranks 9th in points/100 possessions, impressive considering the fact that the team’s offense does not flow through him often when Johnson, Mack, Stute, Cooper, or Wright is on the court. 

This could be attributed to Davis’s raw ability to get the ball in his hands via other methods. Over the past five games, he’s averaging 1.4 offensive rebounds per game, a mark that ranks in the 93rd percentile amongst D-1 guards. This season, he’s scored 22.7% of his points on second chance opportunities, a mark that also ranks high in the 94th percentile amongst guards.

Over the past two seasons, Davis has shown himself to be invaluable for this team, first off the bench and now into the starting lineup. He’s not the elite three-point shooter that Stute is, but clearly something has worked for the Gamecocks in the two games since the sophomore guard has been put into the starting lineup, with two double-digit wins. 

South Carolina Basketball Week Review:
Boxscore Break

In the game against Kentucky, the Gamecock scoring was quite balanced, with Te-Hina Paopao and MiLaysia Fulwiley leading the way with 14 points apiece. Eight different Gamecocks scored between 8-14 points on the night, and Kamilla Cardoso recorded a 12-point-11-rebound double-double while adding five blocks. Off the bench, Ashlyn Watkins, MiLaysia Fulwiley, and Tessa Johnson all recorded multiple steals. 

As a team, South Carolina continued their hot streak from the perimeter, shooting 10-17 from deep, good for a 58.8 3PT%. Defensively, it was one of Dawn Staley’s group’s best performances of the year, forcing 24 turnovers while committing just 14, and, wait for it, winning the points off turnovers battle by a 34-0 margin. Sorry to break from the formality of writing here, but that is absolutely insane. There is no possible way for an opponent to win a game when they don’t score a single point off of turnovers. South Carolina scored more points in the paint (54) than Kentucky scored in total (36). 

Against Georgia, the Gamecocks’ best performer was, by a wide margin, Meechie Johnson. The junior guard shot 6-11 overall, 4-7 from deep, and 3-4 from the line. The rest of the team shot a combined 2-19 (10.5%) from deep and 14-28 (50%) from the line. B.J. Mack scored 16, Collin Murray-Boyles recorded 4 blocks, and Ta’Lon Cooper shared the team lead in rebounds (6 with Murray-Boyles and 3 with Davis, respectively). However, Murray-Boyles went 4-10 from the line in what turned out to be a five-point game, every starter picked up 3+ fouls, (more on that in a second) Zachary Davis went 0-5 from the field, and Josh Gray went 0-5 from the line.

Team-wise, the big story of the game was fouls, as the Gamecocks ended up committing 24 personal fouls while missing almost half of their own free throws. That 24-foul mark is tied for the most in a regulation game under Lamont Paris. Meanwhile, it’s the first time South Carolina has shot more than 30 free-throws while making less than 20 since the last time they played Georgia at home in March of last year, though the ‘Cocks did end up winning that game.

In Fayetteville, South Carolina’s MVP was B.J. Mack, who led the team in points (18) and rebounds (9). It was a get-right game for Mack, who made 3+ threes in a game for the first time since the home victory over George Washington. Other Gamecocks who played well included Jacobi Wright, who, despite shooting 2-7 from the field, led the team with five assists, and Josh Gray, who had a very physical day inside, scoring 6 and grabbing 4 rebounds. The Gamecock starters combined to shoot 8-11 from three, and four of the five starters (all but Johnson) recorded double-figures.

The Gamecocks dominated the boards, winning the rebounding battle by a 39-27 margin, clearly just the more physical team. Though both teams attempted 18 threes, South Carolina made nine to Arkansas’s five. The big difference in the two in-conference foes was ball movement. South Carolina tallied 20 assists, while Arkansas managed just 9. 

In College Station, the Aggies were no match for MiLaysia Fulwiley off the bench. The freshman led the team with 21 points on 8-12 shooting, including a 3-5 mark from deep. Sania Feagin also had a great performance off the bench, scoring 15 and tallying 4 rebounds. Kamilla Cardoso tallied yet another double-double with 17 points and 13 rebounds, while the team shot a blistering 67.2 FG%, their highest since defeating Morgan State earlier this season with a 68.3 FG%. 

As a team, besides the out-of-this-world shooting efficiency overall, also shot 7-13 (53.8%) from deep, and outrebounded the Aggies by a 42-29 margin. Ball movement was key, with the Gamecocks recording 24 assists to the Aggies’ 8. Yet again, the Gamecocks dominated in the paint, recording 56 points in the paint. The Aggies managed 64 points total.

In the home stunner over Kentucky, essentially every Gamecock had a solid individual performance. If an MVP had to be selected, it would be Ta’Lon Cooper. The South Carolina native led both teams with 20 points on 8-11 shooting from the field, and he collected six rebounds and five assists. Collin Murray-Boyles had just six points, but managed nine rebounds, five assists, two steals, and three blocks, while Meechie Johnson’s long dagger gave him 14 points on the night. Jacobi Wright came up clutch off the bench, scoring 14 as well. Josh Gray continued his recent good performance with a 9-point, 6-rebound game. 

Team-wise, it was the 2nd straight game of 20+ assists from the Gamecocks, who ended up with exactly 20 on the night. Kentucky managed just seven. South Carolina had the edge from the perimeter, going 11-24 from deep compared to Kentucky’s 4-13 mark. Other than those two stat categories, the game was pretty equal, but those two really did simply tell the story of the night. South Carolina was much more physical and fluid on offense in their monumental win. 

South Carolina Basketball Week Review:
Lineup Lookback

An unfortunate injury in the Georgia contest has led to a minor shake-up in the Gamecock men’s lineup. Myles Stute suffered an injury to his shoulder, knocking him out for 2-3 weeks. In his stead, Zachary Davis stepped into the starting lineup, as mentioned above. The other four starters have maintained their positions in the starting lineup, with Lamont Paris choosing to roll out a lineup of Cooper, Johnson, Davis, Murray-Boyles, and Mack for the two games against Missouri and Kentucky, both Gamecock wins. 

In terms of in-conference minutes, seven players are averaging at least 23.0 MPG. Those Gamecocks are Ta’Lon Cooper (36.0), Meechie Johnson (30.2), B.J. Mack (27.3), Myles Stute (27.0), Jacobi Wright (23.5), Zachary Davis (23.2), and Collin Murray-Boyles (23.0). The next-highest Gamecock in terms of MPG is Stephen Clark at 8.7. 

How has the lineup switch from Clark to Murray-Boyles fared? In a small sample size (due to Stute’s injury) of 16 minutes with Murray-Boyles and the other regular starters, the team’s net rating of +28.4 ranks in the 80th percentile nationally compared to the starting lineup for the first 15 games with a +9.0 net rating. 

The starting lineup for the past two games actually has a much larger sample size than the Cooper-Johnson-Stute-CMB-Mack lineup, with 53 possessions and 35 minutes played, the 2nd-most common lineup over the course of the season. This particular set of players on the court is roughly around the same efficiency as the original starting lineup, with a +9.5 net rating and an offensive rebounding percentage of 42.9%, in the 89th percentile. 

For the Gamecock women’s team, Dawn Staley rolled out the same starting five of Hall-Kitts-Johnson-Cardoso-Paopao against Kentucky and Texas A&M, and, judging by the scores, it seems to be the best starting lineup in the country. That might not even be debatable. 

Since conference games started, nine Gamecocks have averaged between 27.4 and 13.4 MPG. Those players are Hall (27.4), Paopao (27.0), Cardoso (25.2), Raven Johnson (24.4), Watkins (23.2), Fulwiley (17.0), Tessa Johnson (16.2), Kitts (15.0), and Feagin (13.4). Despite Fulwiley averaging just 17.0 MPG in SEC games, she’s averaging 10.8 PPG in that span. 

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