By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
Two old friends will meet in Columbia, S.C., tonight, and one needs this game a lot more than the other.
After a successful run at Kansas State, South Carolina coach Frank Martin is in his first year of a rebuilding job with the Gamecocks.
Martin and Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy are close friends who were both assistants at Cincinnati under Bob Huggins. Martin was an assistant to Kennedy in 2005-2006 when Kennedy was interim head coach. Later in the spring of 2006 Kennedy accepted the Ole Miss job.
Tipoff tonight at Colonial Life Arena is 6 p.m., and the game will be televised by CSS.
“I’m getting ready to face a dear friend of mind, Frank Martin, and I know it will be a tremendous challenge,” Kennedy said. “Frank is a very good basketball coach, and his team is always going to be fundamentally sound.”
South Carolina is just 2-10 in conference play, 12-13 overall, and doesn’t have the pressure of postseason hanging around down the stretch. That isn’t the case for Ole Miss (19-6, 8-4 SEC) which won its first six SEC games only to lose four of the next five. The Rebels are trying to earn an NCAA tournament at-large bid for the first time since 2002. Some analysts say it that could require as many as 13 wins in a weakened SEC.
An upset win by South Carolina tonight would be a real drag on the Rebels’ RPI. Ole Miss enters the game at 52, South Carolina at 209.
Though two freshmen are in the Gamecocks’ starting five, it’s not an inexperienced bunch as two juniors and a senior round out the lineup.
Martin called out all his players last week – virtually all except junior guard Bruce Ellington – after a 64-46 loss at home against LSU.
“If you take Bruce Ellington off our team, you’d probably have the 12 leading candidates for starring roles in … ‘The Return of the Living Dead,’ the zombie movie,” Martin said.
Another story line will be Murphy Holloway’s return to South Carolina. He transferred away from Ole Miss after his sophomore year to South Carolina – a short drive from his home in Irmo – only to transfer back after sitting out the 2010-2011 season.
Martin, though, is more focused on Marshall Henderson.
“We’ve got to defend a young man scoring 20 points a game,” Martin said. “Andy Kennedy is another one of my dear friends in the business, and he’s doing a great job. He wins 20 every year at Ole Miss, and that’s not going to be different this year.”