COLUMBIA -- It's been a few days since it happened.
What happens tonight won't define the season, but South Carolina's Devan Downey is hoping it will at least get his team pushed in the right direction.
"With the talent we have, some guys are capable of doing some things, self-included, greater than what they're doing on the court," Downey said, moments after the Gamecocks' 85-74 loss at Clemson. "It's not really showing yet. We got to do something before this thing gets out of hand."
It's not time to hit the panic button yet. It's only eight games into the season and USC's four losses have been by a combined 24 points.
But still, all four games were matches where the Gamecocks either had a chance to win at the end or rallied to cut a severe deficit to manageable, and they lost every one. With only one game left before the exam break, Downey called out his teammates after the Clemson game.
The message was delivered without anger or frustration. Plain and simple, Downey said everyone had to step up.
"When I say guys, I mean everybody, me, the team," he said. "I'm not going to call them by name or talk about individuals. When I say guys, I mean everybody."
The Gamecocks play Providence tonight in their portion of the SEC/Big East Invitational, playing a more-or-less neutral game in Philadelphia. It stands to reason there'll be a few more Friars fans in the audience than Gamecocks, but fan reaction is irrelevant.
USC matches up well with the Friars and needs to start winning some games against big-name schools. That's how the NCAA tournament selection committee gets impressed -- a 20-win season based on just the SEC, Campbells and S.C. States of the world won't do it.
Coach Dave Odom said after the Clemson game he was disappointed with the Gamecocks' defensive presence, a Swiss cheese arrangement that led to an 18-point halftime deficit. Although USC rebounded to get within seven points in the second half, the margin was too much to overcome.
"We've got to stand up and get better defensively," Odom said. "Got to get some of the players that are somewhat shackled or whatever, they're not producing like I think they should offensively, got to get them producing a little bit better and we've certainly got to play better defensively, there's no question about that."
After tonight, USC takes a break until Dec. 19, when it hosts Baylor in the first of five straight home games. After that comes the conference slate, which doesn't appear daunting looking at the early season. Only Tennessee has proven itself a Top 25 team and USC stands as much chance as anybody else to finish at the top of the league.
But only if the Gamecocks shed their doldrums, take Downey's advice and get maximum effort from everybody. It begins tonight and while a loss won't be a nail in the season, it would just be one more obstacle to clear if USC can ever be successful.
"I'm disappointed," Downey said. "I'm very strong emotionally so I'm never going to get down on myself or the team. But we got to find answers."
SOUTH CAROLINA (4-4) VS. PROVIDENCE (5-2)
• What: SEC/Big East Invitational
• When: 7 p.m.
• Where: Wachovia Center, Philadelphia
• TV: ESPN2 (cable channel 28 in Rock Hill)
• On the Web: Live Gametracker at uscsports.com
• Tickets: Available at the box office
• South Carolina's probable starters: G Devan Downey 5-9 So. (17.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg); G Zam Fredrick 6-0 Jr. (15.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg); G Brandis Raley-Ross 6-2 So. (8.7 ppg, 3.2 rpg); F Sam Muldrow 6-9 Fr. (4.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg); F Dominique Archie 6-7 So. (10.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg)
• Providence's probable starters: G Jeff Xavier 6-1 Jr. (11.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg); G Dwain Williams 6-0 So. (11.9 ppg, 1.9 rpg); G Brian McKenzie 6-4 So. (12.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg); F Geoffrey McDermott 6-8 Jr. (10.1 ppg, 6.9 rpg); F Jonathan Kale 6-8 Jr. (6.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg)
• Notes: The Gamecocks hit the road for their last game before the exam break, hoping they can break the trend. USC has lost to every big-name opponent it's played with the exception of Penn State. ... USC was manhandled physically by Clemson in its last game. ... Providence has beaten Arkansas (No. 18 at the time), Temple and Boston College but lost to Miami and Rhode Island. ... The Friars hold a 4-2 series lead but USC won the last one, 67-48 in 2001. ... Providence leading scorer Sharaud Curry has still not played after a leg injury during preseason practice. ... Muldrow should start again tonight over Mike Holmes although Raley-Ross may return to the lineup after Dwayne Day struggled in a starting role against Clemson. ... Austin Steed and Chad Gray didn't play against Clemson and Evka Baniulis got spare minutes.
• Next up: South Carolina hosts Baylor at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 19.