COLUMBIA -- Long after the 20-point lead was gone, as the mission changed from holding on to climbing back, some players on the South Carolina men's basketball team looked around and asked: How did this happen?
"We were asking each other questions," sophomore Brandis Raley-Ross said later. "Nobody on the team really experienced it yet, a 360-turnover game. We were all asking each other questions, how can we get out of this?"
The problem was getting into it in the first place. The result was a 92-84 loss to Baylor on Wednesday night.
South Carolina went from leading by 20 in the first half to trailing by 15. During a 13-minute stretch spanning halftime, Baylor went on a 47-12 run.
USC coach Dave Odom was asked whether it was the lowest point of his seven-year tenure. Odom said he would have to reflect before going that far, saying that it was "a huge disappointment."
Losing to Baylor (8-1) wasn't the toughest part. The Bears (whose only loss was to No. 7 Washington State), were once racked by turmoil and NCAA sanctions, but on Thursday won their first road game since Dec. 30, 2004.
But the manner of the loss had to eat at the Gamecocks (5-5), who 13 days before thought they had finally earned a breakthrough win by holding off Providence.
Instead, for the third time this season, they lost by blowing a big lead. But the lead against Baylor was the largest.
South Carolina looked as good as it had all season while building a 44-24 lead, and seemed to have carried over the play from its win over Providence before the exam break.
But Baylor stormed back late in the half with a flurry of 3-pointers, scoring 11 points in a little more than a minute en route to a 14-2 run that closed the deficit to five at the break.
"I don't know the last time ... that one of our teams went as cold offensively and cold defensively at the same time as the last five minutes of the half," Odom said.
In taking over the game, Baylor went to a zone that took USC out of its offense, especially Devan Downey's ability to penetrate. The star guard scored only five of his 18 points after Baylor's run began.
"We really found no answer for their zone," Odom said.
Offensively, the Bears rained in 3-pointers and took away what had been USC's rebounding edge.
When the second half started, the Gamecocks' offensive confusion mounted and scattered boos from the announced crowd of 10,880 could be heard. Baylor led 71-56 at the 11-minute mark when USC's offense finally awoke.
The deficit dwindled to six with four minutes left and to four in the final minute. But it was only a tease as Baylor, playing its first true road game of the season, withstood the charge.
Like his coach, junior guard Zam Fredrick stopped short of calling it a devastating loss.
"I would say it was a tough emotional loss. But we know we're still a good team and we've just got to put it together," he said. "It's not rock bottom. We're still a good team. I keep saying that, but we've just got to find a way to put two halves together."
S. Carolina 84