When the suspension of star senior Sindarius Thornwell was announced on December 4, a concern for the South Carolina Gamecocks lied in who would pick up the scoring slack. With the four-year starter averaging 18.7 points per game, the responsibility appeared to be a multi-player job.
Fortunately for head coach Frank Martin, sophomore PJ Dozier was personally up for the task.
“PJ continues to grow as a player and do unbelievable things for us,” said Martin. “He’s got God-given ability.”
Dozier, a 28-game starter as a freshman, has surpassed expectations this season. The former McDonald’s All-American has asserted himself when the team needs him most, averaging 22 points per game to go along with 6.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 3.2 steals in the month of December.
“It starts with confidence,” Dozier said of his recent play. “Last year, it wasn’t there. I didn’t have the trust in the coaching staff because I would come out and do the same thing — freshmen mistakes is what we call it.
“The whole turnaround from last year to this year is great. I still have a lot of work to do. I’m just looking forward to keep progressing.”
The 5-star point guard did, indeed, have a tough time adjusting to SEC play his first go around. In fact, he shot just 34.7% percent from the floor and was held under five points in nine conference games. When November 11, 2016, arrived, a new, assured P.J. Dozier stepped onto the floor, one who has solidified his NBA Draft prospects and could be saving the Gamecocks’ 2016-17 season.
“He has to impact our team in a great way to be a great team,” said Martin.
Although both South Carolina losses have come during Thornwell’s absence, no blame can be placed on the 20-year old. Dozier has stuffed box scores, drove the lane, and scored from beyond the arc in both defeats. Moreover, his second-half emergence, complemented by Duane Notice, prevented a loss against a very young South Florida squad.
Despite displaying great talent and efficiency in non-conference play (he made 41.9% of three-pointers), by no means is the homegrown product complacent with his success.
“Everything,” said Dozier of the skills needing improvement. “I don’t think we (the coaching staff and me) have any focus points. [I] just need to continue to grow as a player and continue to help the team as much as possible.”
This evening, 9-2 South Carolina looks to get back on track versus Division II Lander. Following the tune-up, an important matchup, and possible resume builder, looms at Memphis on December 30.
As of December 27, Frank Martin has yet to announce the return of Sindarius Thornwell. Nevertheless, with PJ Dozier scoring over twenty points a game this month — he had 25 versus defensively-sound Clemson — he is talented enough to single-handedly lead the Gamecocks at Memphis and through the waters of SEC play.
– P. Wesner