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March 3, 2012

USC ends with program-worst SEC mark



VIDEO: Darrin Horn


VIDEO: Anthony Gill


VIDEO: Malik Cooke


ATHENS, Ga. - Same story, same result.

With another result being the all-time worst SEC finish in program history.

South Carolina only had itself to blame - again.

The Gamecocks finished a dumpster fire of a regular season on Saturday with a 67-55 loss at Georgia, completing their year with the program's fourth 20-loss season - 10-20 - and the worst SEC finish they've ever had - 2-14. USC, already locked into the final seed of next week's SEC tournament, can only tie the program's all-time loss total (21) but that is hardly something to celebrate.

Especially after the Gamecocks had another win, which at least would have injected some kind of good feeling into what's shaping up to be a coal-black offseason, in their sights. USC was ahead of Georgia 10-0 in the game's first seven minutes, put in its first wave of substitutions - and there went the ballgame.

Three combined turnovers from subs Eric Smith and Lakeem Jackson opened the door for cold-shooting Georgia (14-16, 5-11) to get back in the game, and the Bulldogs charged through it. Gerald Robinson Jr. scored 11 of his 13 first-half points in one stretch, including three 3-pointers, and Georgia sank two more from long range as it spurted to a 30-13 end of the half.

Down seven at the break, the Gamecocks gave up a quick bucket to start the second half and never got back even. Unable to score consistently all year, USC was left staring at another lost opportunity - and hardly any bright notes to try and look at as it heads to New Orleans next week.

Coach Darrin Horn had no answers other than the same ones all year. The defense broke down on the 3-pointers in the first because of miscommunication and not making switches, the offense didn't score because not enough guys did what they need to do.

"We've got to grow up," Horn said. "Look at the stat sheet - we held them to under 40 percent, they didn't shoot a high percentage from 3. It's not the collective part in that, it's the timing."

Georgia went back to what it had to do to win. Robinson started the Bulldogs rolling, and the second half was spent pounding the ball inside. USC couldn't stop it, and couldn't answer it - the Gamecocks scored 12 points in the first 12 minutes of the second half as Georgia stretched the lead to as much as 14.

The Gamecocks got within six points late, but a flagrant foul issued to Bruce Ellington - on a play where he hit the deck hard and banged his shoulder - gave the Bulldogs all the momentum they needed. They hit enough to pull away, USC had to foul and hope, and the comeback fizzled one more time.

"That kind of took the wind out of our sails," Horn said.

Bad ending to a bad season. All that was left was to hope for a miracle next week.

"We're excited," freshman Anthony Gill said, after scoring eight points with five rebounds. "We're excited to have another opportunity to play another game."

As usual, USC has plenty of work to do to try and make one game next week into two. While Gill was solid, Malik Cooke was grand with 17 points and six rebounds and Ellington scored 10, USC got little production from players it has to depend on.

Damontre Harris had three points, although he snared nine rebounds. Brenton Williams, not a stud scorer but someone who needs to have around five points per game, had nothing. R.J. Slawson scored one. Damien Leonard had seven and Brian Richardson had a surprising six, but the defensive breakdowns cost USC the lead and the momentum.

Robinson ended with 23 points, as a senior on his Senior Day. Nobody else had more than eight. The Gamecocks were good enough in spots, but only in spots.

"We had three or four possessions where we guarded them really good, and we gave up something late," Horn said.

USC's only hope to try and salvage something out of a miserable year is to win in New Orleans. One victory gives Horn his first postseason win in four seasons. Two puts the Gamecocks' win total ahead of their football team, an extremely troubling statistic. Three puts them in the finals.

Four - well, USC needs to concentrate on one first.

"It's a whole new season," Cooke said. "I like our chances in the tournament."

Box score

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