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Gamecocks ready for first SEC test

South Carolina will open Southeastern Conference play on Wednesday night at Mississippi State. The Gamecocks enter the game with 10 wins in non-conference play for the first time since the 2008-09 season when they finished with a share of the Eastern Division title.

Senior Lakeem Jackson

OPENING TIP
Date: Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013
Tipoff: 8 p.m. ET
Location: Starkville, Miss.
Arena: Humphrey Coliseum (10,575)
Series: Mississippi State leads, 16-8

The Bulldogs enter the game off a 97-46 win over New Orleans last Thursday and are led by first-year head coach Rick Ray. The former Clemson assistant has dealt with injuries this year as two freshmen suffered season-ending injuries before play even began.

It is has been a situation that Gamecocks head coach Frank Martin understands and feels sympathy for.

“I am sure when Coach (Ray) made the decision to go there he knew what he was walking into but the one part he did not expect to go through is the injuries on top of the guys leaving early,” Martin said Tuesday during his press conference. “It is unfortunate, that first year is never the easiest and for a first time head coach he has had to deal with a lot more adversity than anyone should have to deal with.”

Despite the problems for the Bulldogs, the Gamecocks head coach is more worried about his own ball club. The Gamecocks are 8-13 all time in conference openers but this year’s ball club is still learning on how to play the Martin way and do it on a consistent basis.

In order to pick up a win on Wednesday night they will need to what they have done during the months of November and December and not deviate from the plan that Martin and his staff have laid forth.

“We have to focus in on how we need to play to win every game on our schedule,” Martin said. “That can’t change every single day. We have to stay consistent with how we are playing.”

The Gamecocks have played the previous three games with their roster in flux. Guard Bruce Ellington has missed time due to football and LaShay Page was dismissed due to an academic issue. Forward Michael Carrera has been out with a hip injury meaning the Gamecocks have been short-handed.

The Gamecocks received final word on Page’s situation last week and know they will have Ellington back on Wednesday night which Martin believes will provide a lift to the point guard position.

Carrera was full go at practice on Tuesday but will still be a game time decision according to Martin. Still, the addition of Ellington and potentially Carrera, Martin is not as worried about his team’s depth.

“We still won’t have the kind of depth I would like but we won’t be as undermanned,” he said.

Game time is scheduled for 8 p.m. eastern time with coverage on ESPN3. The meeting between the Gamecocks and Bulldogs will be the 25th all-time with the Bulldogs holding a 16-8 advantage.

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