South Carolina tries to avoid letdown against FIU
After beating ranked opponents Michigan and Syracuse last week, No. 20 South Carolina has stepped down in competition this week.
But Gamecocks coach Frank Martin -- and his team's leaders -- want nothing to do with any letdown, as they prepare to host Florida International on Sunday.
South Carolina handled Vermont rather easily, 68-50, on Thursday to improve to 7-0.
However, Martin wasn't pleased with his team's focus in the first half. He warned his players in post-game press conference to be ready to go in practice and in Sunday's game.
"If they don't, I feel bad for them," Martin said. "Not because of me, but Sindarius (Thornwell), Duane (Notice), all of those guys.
"Someone is going get destroyed in practice, if they come out and don't come in here tomorrow ready to work. That's the beauty of where we're at as a program."
When Martin arrived at South Carolina four years ago, player-driven discipline wasn't part of the program's makeup. It was something the intense veteran coach had to instill.
Martin believes it's ingrained in his program now.
"That had to be me four years ago (getting on players)," Martin told reporters. "That's why I got suspended. I had guys that didn't understand that. That had to be me. Now, it doesn't have to be me. I've got guys that have been through it. They're going to go out and practice and they're going to demand that things be done a certain way.
"Whenever they see me getting mad, because they see one or two or three guys who aren't doing what they're asked to do, they've got to deal with internal peer pressure, and it's not from the 50-year-old. It's from the guy that lives in the dorm with them. We've created that, and our leadership is real good."
South Carolina and No. 1 Kentucky are the only two unbeaten teams left in the SEC.
Thornwell, a versatile 6-5 senior guard, is a big reason the Gamecocks have been so impressive to start the season. He leads the team with 18.7 points per game, 6.7 rebounds and 4.1 assists, ranks in the top 10 in program history in assists and steals.
Florida International, under coach Anthony Evans, comes into Sunday's game at 3-5, with four of the Golden Panthers' losses coming by six points or fewer.
Senior forward Michael Kessens set a school record with 23 rebounds in Florida International's 84-81 overtime loss to Elon on Thursday. It was the third overtime loss of the season for the Panthers.
Senior guard Donte McGill is FIU's primary scoring threat. He's averaging 19.1 points per game.
Kessens is averaging 14.9 points and 12.1 rebounds. The two seniors are the Panthers' catalysts for a program in need of a turnaround.
Florida International hasn't experienced a winning season since 2012-13 and is coming off a 13-19 campaign.
Evans is in his fourth year at Florida International. He has a close relationship with Martin.
"Anthony (Evans) and I are friends," Martin told reporters after the Vermont game. "Anthony and I have known each other for a while. His video guy is like a little brother to me. His dad played for me in high school. ... It's one of those things, it just made sense. They're pretty good."