COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina coach Frank Martin had watched his team's eight-point lead shrink away to nothing with the most critical part of the game coming up. He called timeout and had a few things to say to his players. "If I told you, I'd probably get suspended again," joked Martin.
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina coach Frank Martin had watched his team's eight-point lead shrink away to nothing with the most critical part of the game coming up. He called timeout and had a few things to say to his players.
"If I told you, I'd probably get suspended again," joked Martin.
There was no shouting or yelling, just a reminder for the Gamecocks to dig in once more. Martin's message worked as South Carolina used a late 14-2 run to defeat Texas A&M 79-68 on Saturday.
"This team's fun to coach, they're fun to be around," Martin explained. "They're not perfect, no one in this room's perfect. But they care for one another, they've got courage, they're enjoyable."
Martin certainly enjoyed what he saw down the stretch as Sindarius Thornwell scored 11 of his 16 points in the final seven minutes after the Gamecocks fell behind 59-58.
Duane Notice had 19 points off four 3-pointers while Rakym Felder scored 19 off the bench to send the Gamecocks (12-3) to their second straight 2-0 start in the Southeastern Conference — and just the fourth ever in 26 years in the league.
"We made a couple of mistakes, but we just had to pick up our intensity," Notice said.
That's what happened after Texas A&M (8-6) took its final lead on Tonny Trocha-Morelos' jumper with 6:58 remaining. Thornwell ignited the decisive run with a basket on the next possession that put South Carolina ahead to stay. Notice followed with a 3-point play and Thornwell had two more baskets. By the time PJ Dozier hit a 3-pointer from the left corner, the Gamecocks were ahead 72-61.
"Thornwell made a couple of plays and he separated the game himself," Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said.
D.J. Hogg tied his career high with 25 points to lead Texas A&M, which fell to 0-3 in SEC play for the first time in its five league seasons. Hogg had seven 3-pointers, topping his career best of five last accomplished against St. Francis (Pa.) in December.
For Thornwell, it was his second straight stellar performance since returning from a six-game suspension. He had 19 points, 11 rebounds, six steals and three blocks in South Carolina's win at Georgia this past Wednesday.
THE BIG PICTURE
Texas A&M: The Aggies started four sophomores and a freshman and shot nearly 70 percent in the opening period, so clearly the future is strong. The 6-foot-9 Hogg and 6-10 Tyler Davis are players who give Texas A&M a strong inside duo. Hogg made all five of his shots the first 20 minutes, including a banked 30-footer as time ran out on the half. ... The Aggies tied a season high with 25 turnovers. That came in their last outing, a 100-58 drubbing against Kentucky.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks' best players in Thornwell and Dozier struggled to score and that's the wrong recipe for winning in the SEC. The two, who average nearly 35 points a game, were just 3-of-14 shooting combined for eight points. The pair finished a combined 9-of-28 shooting for 24 points.
Martin said he began noticing the nature of his team during their August trip to Costa Rica. Martin handed off coaching duties to his assistants so he could sit back and assess how his players were with each other. His discovery? A gritty group that cared for each other and was eager to win. "I'm not saying we're there yet, but we're getting there," he said.
Notice shook off a bad shooting stretch — he was 7 of 34 from the field for 21 points his past four games — against the Aggies. When Notice made his first three shots at practice Friday, Martin said Dozier was so excited for his teammate. "They went nuts on him," Martin said. "It's how this team is."
Texas A&M: Faces LSU at home on Wednesday night.
South Carolina: Travels to Tennessee on Wednesday night.
Follow Pete Iacobelli on Twitter @PeteIacobelli