South Carolina will head to St. John’s (4-2) on Thursday with a couple extra players available for head coach Frank Martin. The Gamecocks (5-1) will welcome back freshman Laimonas Chatkevicius as well as junior Bruce Ellington. The addition of the two will give Martin a roster of 11 scholarship players while Carlton Geathers continues to rehab from an offseason injury.
South Carolina guard Bruce Ellington
Date: Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012
Tipoff: 7:30 p.m. ET
Location: Queens, N.Y.
Arena: Carnesecca Arena (5,602)
Series: St. John's leads, 3-0
Last Meeting: St. John's win, 71-59, Dec. 27, 1975
The return of Chatkevicius was expected as the Gamecocks knew that he would have to sit out six games following the NCAA ruling that he had accepted improper benefits from his host family while attending South Kent School. The addition of Ellington is a little more surprising as Martin had said back at SEC Media Day that Ellington would not participate with the team until after the football team completed their bowl game.
“Coach Spurrier fully supports him playing and wants him to play,” Martin said. “We made the decision we are going to let Bruce practice for the next couple weeks with us while football is out of practice. I am pretty sure he is going to travel with us, whether he will play or not I don’t know but if he is going to practice we need to expose him to how we are going to do things.”
Ellington had planned to only play basketball this coming season but when Darrin Horn was fired last March, the 5-foot-11 point guard changed his mind and elected to continue playing both. Still, he has stayed in constant contact with the program, watching what they are doing and trying to learn what Martin is teaching.
That type of commitment is what has impressed Martin and what will probably lead to Ellington getting a few minutes on Thursday night.
“He has studied everything we do and watching him go through some of the stuff in practice in yesterday,” Martin said, “it is obvious that it is important enough for him to have learned it because he understood it a little bit better than some of the guys who have been out there for two months, so it is obvious he cares.”
The Gamecocks enter the contest ranking No. 16 nationally in rebounding margin averaging 11 more boards per game than their opponent. Martin hopes the return of Chatkevicius can not only help improve the Gamecocks in the rebounding department but provide another big body down in the post.
“He is obviously tall,” Martin said, pausing for effect, “so I hope that becomes productive in some way. He has changed his body and is a lot more prepared to be put in a game and have a positive impact than he was two months ago. He is 6-foot-11 and if we can get him to play with the effort and passion that he will play with, he will help our defense just with his size and length.”
Through the first six games, the Gamecocks are averaging 20 turnovers per game, including three straight games of 20 or more turnovers. Despite the solid early season record the turnover problem is one that has Martin concerned.
“The problem I have with our turnovers is they have cost us directly between eight and 12 points,” he said. “We can’t defend the shots of the other team because they are break-a-way layups.”
Martin believes the Red Storm is the best team the Gamecocks have faced as far as their ability to score in the open court and if the Gamecocks fail to take care of the ball, the Red Storm will make them pay.
“If we have a game of 20 or 22 turnovers we might be in trouble because they will convert every single one of those into a basket,” Martin said.
The Red Storm enter the game off back to back wins over Holy Cross and Florida Gulf Coast. D’Anglo Harris leads the team in scoring averaging 21 points per game while Big East Freshman of the Week Jakarr Sampson averages 12 points per game.