Both coaches learned under Bob Huggins, who preached defense above all.
South Carolina took Ole Miss to the pulpit.
The Gamecocks crunched the Rebels 67-56 Saturday to continue their best SEC start in two decades, again leaning on their suffocating D and getting enough points to get by.
Ole Miss (10-7, 1-4 SEC), playing without leading scorer Deandre Burnett (high ankle sprain), managed 47 points in its last game and had to play the best defense in the conference. The Gamecocks (14-3, 4-0) didn’t light up the scoring column, but P.J. Dozier and Chris Silva each had 16 points to outpace the Rebels.
USC coach Frank Martin and Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy cut their teeth under Huggins at Cincinnati, Martin following Huggins to Kansas State and then succeeded him as coach. Martin compared USC’s man-to-man pressure and aggression to Huggins’ styles, and credited Kennedy for employing Huggins’ half-court trap.
Kennedy, after his squad shot 30.9 percent and turned it over 21 times, shook his head.
“I’m not sure Huggs would claim the team I got,” he murmured. “We’re awfully soft.”
Neither team could score, but the Gamecocks were all over the boards, getting second and third chances and getting to the free-throw line. For a while, that looked like it might be enough, but Ole Miss got a boost from backup guard Cullen Neal.
Neal swished three free throws to cut USC’s lead to three points in the first, but the Gamecocks kept tightening their defense. The Rebels scored four points in the final six minutes as USC constructed a 14-point lead.
Ole Miss blinked after halftime and the Gamecocks were up 20. USC committed 20 turnovers and only hit five 3-pointers against the worst 3-point defense in the league, but they never let it get interesting.
Martin was pleased with the much-improved rebounding (42-32, and 29 on the defensive glass) and disappointed with the offense. He can deal with a bad shooting night as long as USC takes care of the ball, but the Gamecocks have now played two consecutive games with at least 20 turnovers.
“That’s two games in a row we can’t get lined up the right way, and we just turn the ball over,” he said. “And that’s a recipe for major problems.”
Yet the Gamecocks won and are facing their most crucial week of the season. Tied with No. 23 Florida and No. 6 Kentucky for first place in the SEC, USC plays each this week.
“They’re huge,” Dozier said. “Our mindset is the next game is always the biggest game.”
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