Tuesday’s matchup between South Carolina and Clemson will mark the fourth consecutive season in which the rivalry game tips off just beyond mid-December.
USC’s fall semester is over. Winter break is also in session for Clemson.
While that might count out the possibility for a packed student section, Frank Martin pointed to history when explaining why this date continues to make most sense for this game.
“In my years here,” Martin said, “do you realize when we’ve played Clemson when we play them now, our crowd has been bigger than when we played them when school was in? I do. (Clemson coach) Brad (Brownell) and I have talked about it. Brad feels the same way.”
Martin has led the Gamecocks five times against the Tigers. On Dec. 2, 2012, Clemson beat USC in Columbia before an announced crowd of 10,684 at Colonial Life Arena. A year later – on Nov. 17, 2013 – the Tigers beat the Gamecocks before a crowd of 7,283 in Clemson’s Littlejohn Coliseum, which then had a capacity of 10,000.
The scheduling shift started in 2014. CLA drew 11,992 for South Carolina’s 68-45 win over Clemson on Dec. 19. On Dec. 18, 2015, with the game held in Greenville’s Bon Secours Wellness Arena (17,300 capacity) as Littlejohn was being renovated, 14,446 showed up for Carolina’s 65-59 victory.
Last year – on Dec. 21, 2016 – 17,026 at CLA watched the Tigers upset the 22nd-ranked Gamecocks 62-60.
“Facts are facts,” Martin said. “We play Clemson here last year and we had more fans than we had two years before.”
Tuesday’s game, which will tip off at 7 p.m. inside an adjusted Littlejohn (capacity now 9,000), comes four weeks after a sold-out Williams-Brice Stadium witnessed the Gamecocks and Tigers play each other in football.
“We play that game earlier, what’s everyone article your boss is telling you to write in early November going to be about?” Martin asked a reporter Thursday. “Football. So why do I want to play when you’re writing about football? You see what I’m saying?”
USC, nine months removed from a Final Four run, is 8-2 this season. Clemson, which beat No. 22 Florida on Saturday, is 9-1.
The Gamecocks lead the all-time series, 90-77.
“I’m looking forward to this rivalry because it’s all everybody talks about here,” said South Carolina freshman forward Justin Minaya, “beat Clemson and all that.”
USC (8-2) at Clemson (9-1)
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Littlejohn Coliseum in Clemson
How to watch: ESPNU