Bruce Ellington’s Presence For South Carolina Makes a DifferencePosted by Brian Joyce on January 28th, 2013
Brian Joyce is a writer for the SEC microsite and regular contributor for Rush The Court. He filed this report after Saturday’s South Carolina-Arkansas game in Columbia. Follow him on Twitter for more about SEC basketball at bjoyce_hoops.
A 40-11 run enabled South Carolina to erase a big early deficit and then some against the Arkansas Razorbacks on Saturday afternoon. The Gamecocks outrebounded the Razorbacks 42-26. They only turned the ball over five times in the first half. USC even shot almost 60 percent from beyond the arc, but it was something slightly more intangible that led the Gamecocks to a 75-54 victory over Arkansas. Point guard Bruce Ellington’s leadership in the huddle and on the court gave Frank Martin’s squad the boost it needed to succeed. Football has limited Ellington’s ability to spend quality practice time with his team, but he’s doing a lot of catching up now.
Down 15-3 with 15:39 left in the first half, Martin turned to his team during the first media timeout and said, “this ain’t good.” And after that, the coach did something he doesn’t often do, he stayed quiet. What happened next could eventually define Martin’s first season in Columbia. “And then Bruce did most of the talking. Just wanted to make sure we stayed on the same page and we’re good.” Ellington played football for Steve Spurrier in the fall before re-joining the Gamecocks’ basketball team last month. He missed valuable practice time, but Martin trusts his leadership skills. “He’s got that personality, he’s got that demeanor. If you’re an athlete and guys have been practicing for three months, you can’t walk in the first day and open your mouth. Now he’s been with us a little while. He’s better understanding what we’re supposed to do.”
It wasn’t just Ellington’s leadership skills that built a 25-point lead at one point in the game. Ellington scored 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting and added four rebounds and four assists. Though he’s struggled shooting over the last several games, Martin never wavered in confidence for his point guard. When asked what Ellington had done to get better, Martin replied, “Work at it. You’re either a good shooter or you’re not. If you’re a guy that’s made shots before, then shoot it. Bruce has made hard shots here. He’s been taking open shots, he just hasn’t made them. The day after the Vanderbilt game, it was a Sunday… He was in the gym, by himself, shooting balls.”
Ellington made plays all over the court, but defense is where he truly made his mark. Arkansas guard BJ Young, who is one of the SEC’s leading scorers, had just seven points on 3-of-12 shooting. Young struggled to become a factor in the game, even though he played 27 minutes. Martin credits Ellington’s solid defense as key to limiting Young. ”He understands what we’re doing from a concept standpoint. He’s tough, he’s got athleticism, he’s got a real good mind, he understands angles. Let’s look at his last three match-ups. Point guard at Vanderbilt, I think, scored two points against us. He’s the key to their team. Bruce neutralized him. We go to Missouri. Phil Pressey is pretty good. He neutralized him. And now today, this. So Bruce is pretty good. Point guard spearheads your defense. Point guard spearheads your offense. Gotta have a good point guard.”
And South Carolina has a pretty good point guard. If Saturday’s 21-point victory is any indication, South Carolina will continue to improve under Ellington’s leadership and solid play. The Gamecocks may not make much of a run in the SEC this year, but look out for next year. Given time to upgrade the talent level and fully install his system, Martin’s team should be much improved, of course, with another year with his dual-sport leader at point guard.