COLUMBIA — Frank Martin is embarrassed about South Carolina’s offense and the first-year coach isn’t sure when things will improve.
Martin said the Gamecocks (5-3) have lost games to Elon, St. John’s and rival Clemson in a large part because of their dreadful offensive execution. South Carolina sits in the bottom half of the Southeastern Conference in points scored, shooting percentage and points allowed.
Last Sunday, South Carolina trailed Clemson by double digits much of the second half in a 64-55 loss. Martin called the offense inept right after the loss. His view didn’t change after watching tape the past few days.
Martin said he and his staff all re-watch the game by themselves before comparing notes on a game’s highs and lows.
“Almost to the T, we’re all in agreement that the problem with our team is how embarrassingly bad we’ve been on offense,” Martin said this week. “And we’ve got to fix that.”
Martin wasn’t sure what to expect from the Gamecocks when he left Kansas State after five successful seasons to rebuild South Carolina’s struggling program. Still, he thought the attack would flow better than it has.
“Our team defense has been not great, but it’s been good enough to win with,” Martin explained. “The problem is we’re giving teams so many free points because of our inability to play offense. Our offense is so bad for numerous reasons, which is too long for me to sit here and explain right now, that it deflates us.”
Martin’s seen too much individual play and not enough teamwork on the offensive side. He’s also complained about his team’s lack of communication during games, saying he’s seen more fire from his guys on Twitter than on the court this season.
“There’s been a little bit of a lack of communication coming out of time outs and listening to what the coach has been telling us,” said Brenton Williams, the Gamecocks leading scorer at 13.4 points a game. “We’ve got to find a way to communicate better.”
Martin said the problem is partly leadership. He said his former Wildcats star Denis Clemente was a take-charge leader who knew the coach’s wishes and ran games and practices with determination and precision.
The Gamecocks, like most struggling programs, are dealing with youth and the loss of players from last season’s chaos of going 2-14 in the SEC. Forward Damontre Harris transferred to Florida and Anthony Gill left for Virginia. Point guard Bruce Ellington, the team’s top returning scorer from last year, only returned to the team last week after finishing the football regular season.
Ellington, the Gamecocks top receiver with 38 catches and 564 yards, will leave the team again once No. 11 South Carolina starts practicing for the No. 19 Michigan in the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day.
All of that’s led Martin to simplify his offense more than at any point in his six years as a college coach. Martin used a football analogy to explain the team’s offensive struggles, saying he’s only calling runs to the right or the left – and neither his running backs nor offensive line executes it properly.
“When our running back is supposed to run to the left, he runs to the right,” Martin said. “And that’s a major problem right now with our team, and it’s a shame because all we’re calling are those runs into those two gaps, and we can’t figure that one out right now.”
Martin’s seen signs things could get better. He said Williams, his junior guard, came to him after the Clemson loss and asked to see tapes of Martin’s Kansas State guards.
“’I want to see how they play so I can try and play like them,”’ Martin said of Williams. “I thought that was a pretty powerful statement by that young man.”
As frustrated as Martin is right now, he understands he’s in the early stages of reclamation project. He’s hopeful in time, leadership, communication and offense will all improve over time.
“We’ll get it right,” he said. “That’s the beauty of a season is that you don’t practice to play eight games. You practice to play through March, and last time I checked, that’s three months away.”