The Gamecocks (14-17) finished 4-14 during the expanded conference season and head into this week’s SEC tournament having won twice in the final six games. They face Mississippi State (9-21) on Wednesday to open tournament play.
South Carolina enters with more confidence, fight and polish, Martin believes, than the group he had in November and December. That may seem hard to fathom given the Gamecocks record and some of Martin’s own postgame pronouncements - remember “I’ve never been more embarrassed to call myself a basketball coach than I am today” after the Gamecocks 64-46 home loss to LSU last month?
Martin, though, says his team hasn’t stopped improving and competing each time they take the court.
“I think we’re leaps and bounds ahead of where we were in November and December,” Martin said “I think this team’s a lot better.”
The evidence, Martin says, comes at practice when he sees players taking in the message and improving technique. It also comes when workouts are over as players put in the extra time shooting or running drills to get better.
The Gamecocks see the SEC tournament as a chance to wipe the slate clean and start fresh. “I definitely think we’ve learned a lot,” forward Lakeem Jackson said. “It’s not easy to just throw it away, the season’s going to be lingering around. But I think we’ve fought hard and we know what it takes to win and finish out some games now.”
For Martin, this is the most important time of the year because at some point - unless you win it all - your season comes to close. “Every team understands that they don’t want to get on that plane and go home,” he said.