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USC-Clemson rivalry winner will get boost for NCAAs

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USC-Clemson rivalry winner will get boost for NCAAs

 

Dec. 20, 2016

 

He’s from Toronto, so he could be excused for not knowing.

He found out about The Rivalry. Quickly.

“We lost my freshman year and we came back, and it was just an unbelievable feeling from the fans,” South Carolina senior Duane Notice said. “I thought it was just a regular game, a regular loss, but the way their fans made it seem, and the trolling on social media, to the way our fans felt for losing, it made me kind of feel like I was a part of the whole rivalry.”

 

The out-of-towners usually chime the same tone. They’re on campus around five minutes before they hear, “Beat Clemson.” When they first see those orange jerseys on the other side, they understand how important it is not to lose. Championships are great, but leaving USC having never lost to the Tigers? They’ll build a statue of you.

The homegrown kids, especially ones raised in a Gamecock family, try to express it to their teammates, but they just can’t convey what it means. Not until the result is in.

“Growing up around here,” Columbia’s P.J. Dozier said, “I definitely understand the importance of winning that game.”

The No. 22 Gamecocks (9-1) and Clemson (8-2) clash for the 167th time Wednesday and, as usual, there’s a lot on the line. USC needs a win over a team that will keep its RPI strong since it won’t get much help from its league. The Tigers would like a win over a team that beat Michigan and Syracuse to add to its ACC schedule, which would likely get them to the NCAAs with slightly more than a .500 finish.

Then there’s the bragging rights, which USC has held the past two seasons. It’s the only one of the four major sports the Gamecocks have an overall series lead, and they know it – Dozier’s never lost to Clemson, Notice is 2-1.

USC is home, but is again without star Sindarius Thornwell, while Clemson just received the return of former top-50 prospect Elijah Thomas to eligibility. A 9 p.m. tip over Christmas break with folks due at work Thursday morning doesn’t seem conducive to a packed house – but this is The Rivalry.

“I didn’t understand the seriousness of it until after the first time we played them, in Clemson,” Notice said. “Ever since then, I’ve kind of been engaged and connected to it, so I’m really excited to play them again.”

The Gamecocks were mauled by Seton Hall in the interior in their only loss, and Clemson has a lot of height and bulk to challenge them. But the Tigers’ bigs – 6-foot-7 Jaron Blossomgame and 6-8 Donte Grantham – like to shoot the 3-pointer, which plays into USC’s strengths.

USC wants to deny the ball on the perimeter and Clemson averages more than 24 3-point attempts per game. Yet Blossomgame was a first-team All-ACC performer last year and it wasn’t because of his long-range prowess.

“The one place you can guarantee you’re going to find him is attacking the rim, whether it’s rebounding or driving the ball, posting up, he’s going to attack the rim,” USC coach Frank Martin said. “If for some reason, one of our guys can’t find him in the game, they find the rim, I guarantee you they’ll find Blossomgame.”

The Gamecocks have relied on Dozier, playing the best basketball of his career, and Notice to direct them in Thornwell’s absence, but if Notice isn’t hitting his shots, the game can turn sour. Martin blamed himself for pressuring Notice against the Pirates. When he eased up, Notice rebounded from an 0-for-15 slump to drain four second-half 3-pointers against South Florida.

It’s another challenge for USC’s young team, something Martin wanted when he made the schedule. He sees Clemson as the Gamecocks’ brethren – except for this game.

“We’re going to be a much better basketball team after this game,” Martin said. “I think our programs kind of mirror each other – they’re both pretty good and not too many people give either one of us much respect.”

NOTE

Sophomore guard Hassani Gravett, who missed the last game with a sprained ankle, hopes to play.

“The plan is for him to play on Wednesday,” Martin said. “But it’s the same ankle that kept him out of 15 games last year in junior college.

 

 

 

 

THE STATE

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