COLUMBIA — Things have not been easy for South Carolina coach Frank Martin.
And while the second-year coach sees improvement from his young Gamecocks, the losses keep mounting for a head coach who hadn’t missed the postseason until coming here almost two years ago.
“It’s not fun when you’re in it,” Martin said Tuesday. “I don’t go home and celebrate every night.”
Not that’s he’s got anything to shout about these days.
South Carolina (7-12) stands 0-6 in Southeastern Conference play for the third time ever. The Gamecocks have never lost their first seven league games, something they look to avoid when meeting Texas A&M (12-7, 3-3) on Wednesday night.
Martin’s longest losing streak in five seasons at Kansas State was four games. This is his second-straight season dropping six in a row.
Martin could have a valid excuse this time: 12 of 14 players are underclassmen and he’s minus the two point guards he planned on running the team this season in injured Tyrone Johnson and Bruce Ellington, the two-sport standout who gave up his senior seasons in football and basketball to enter the NFL draft.
That’s left Martin and his staff trying to cram experience and SEC polish into a lineup that was mostly playing in high school a year ago.
The Gamecocks are 10th in SEC scoring and next-to-last in the 14-team league in defense. They are the only SEC team allowing more points than they’re scoring this season.
Having so many first-timers is also a problem at practice, Martin said, because they’re just finding out the intensity brought to SEC opponents.
“We don’t have the personnel in practice to challenge each other the way those guys challenge you in a game,” he said. “So our guys are having to learn in the game and that’s hard.”
Martin’s attempting to take the long-term view of his team’s short-comings. He understood when he took the job -- and accepted a six-year contract -- the fix wouldn’t come overnight, especially when overhauling the roster and adding seven freshmen into the program this past season.
Martin said the losing is teaching he and his staff about increased patience and reaching deeper as a coach to get your points across when players don’t understand.
“It doesn’t feel healthy going it through it,” he said. “But I know it’s real healthy for my career.”
Martin, brought along by West Virginia’s Bob Huggins, was a near instant success at Kansas State. He reached the NCAA tournament four of his five years there and never won fewer than 21 games a season. Martin was just as well known for the sideline show he put on when players didn’t do as instructed, his scowl visible and laser stare locked onto the offender’s face.
Martin’s had his difficulty handling the losses at South Carolina. He shouted at the team’s lone senior, Brenton Williams, during a first-half timeout in a 75-74 loss to Ole Miss on Jan. 18th, something he apologized to Williams and fans for three days later.
After losing at Georgia, 97-76, last week, Martin was angered by his team’s lack of rebounding and timely scoring.
“I’m obviously doing a crappy job of coaching because these guys can’t grab a rebound off a free throw and they can’t make a layup,” Martin said following that defeat.
A lack of experience at the point has been a concern. Johnson, a Villanova transfer, fractured his foot in South Carolina’s 75-67 loss at Texas A&M two weeks ago. He had surgery days later and is out indefinitely.
That’s left Duane Notice, Sindarius Thornwell and Jaylen Shaw – all freshmen – running the show during SEC play.
Martin’s seen his players’ pace pick up at practices. And he’s ecstatic about their off-court performance, adding with pride that 13 of his players have GPAs of 3.0 or better.
“The difficulty in this moment right now is not my players, it’s that we haven’t won a game in the SEC,” Martin said. “We get judged in wins and losses. We understand that and we accept our responsibility.”