Chris Beard, speaking on Jan. 27 after beating South Carolina in front of 14,142 fans at Colonial Life Arena, expects the Gamecocks to still be alive in mid-March.
“I think they’re an NCAA Tournament team,” the Texas Tech coach said following the No. 14 Red Raiders’ 70-63 win.
USC (13-8) entered Saturday’s game with a chance to grab its third win against a team ranked among the top 50 of the RPI. It was coming off an upset victory at Florida and wasn’t far removed from topping the other SEC power, Kentucky, at home.
The Gamecocks, as a No. 11 seed, appeared in Jerry Palm’s Friday morning NCAA Tournament projection on CBSSports.com. Losing to Texas Tech (RPI 19) is not all that damaging. USC (4-4 SEC) still has enough resume-building opportunities in front of it as February approaches.
Beard, meanwhile, feels his Red Raiders are leaving Columbia with a significant result.
“It was a big win for us for a lot of different reasons,” Beard said. “But at the top of that list is just how much respect we have for Coach Martin and the South Carolina program. That’s kind of a validation, signature win for us.
“To me, Frank has one of the toughest teams in the country. Last year, special season. He’s doing it again this year.”
Asked for further detail on why he feels the Gamecocks are Big Dance-worthy, Beard acknowledged Chris Silva.
USC’s junior forward – and lead candidate to make All-SEC – finished with 16 points and five rebounds Saturday.
“Silva’s a pro,” Beard said. “He’s a great rebounder, he basically took the game over in the second half. We couldn’t guard him. We tried a bunch of different things that gave them a chance to hit some 3s because we were so focused on him. So it starts with really good players.”
The Gamecocks led by as many as five in the second half before folding over the final six minutes. USC forced 15 Texas Tech turnovers and out-rebounded the Red Raiders by four.
“I’m sure you guys are tired of hearing about it, but Frank’s the best,” Beard said. “His teams play defense, they share the ball. What’s good about college basketball is Frank Martin.”
Beard, in his second year with Tech, coached the ABA’s South Carolina Wolves (Myrtle Beach) in 2011-12.
“I love South Carolina,” Beard said. “I think they’ve got the coolest flag of any state in the country. You got great people, you got good Cajun food. I’m not a golfer, but they say the golf’s good here, too.”