CLEMSON -- Devan Downey's never had any problem being labeled South Carolina's leader, despite his sophomore status and only in his first year with the Gamecocks. That was apparent when he took the floor for the first time, scoring 24 points and screaming at his teammates to get the lead out against S.C. State.
So no one was really surprised when Downey channeled last season's leader, Tré Kelley, and lashed out at himself and his teammates following Saturday's 85-74 loss to Clemson.
"The team's got to play hard, some guys got to step up," he said, clad in his sweatsuit and leaning against one of the walls in the bowels of Littlejohn Coliseum. "I'm not going to make any excuses, I'm going to shoot it to you real, the team's got to play harder, some guys got to step up."
Downey declined to point out anybody specifically, just saying that all the Gamecocks -- himself included -- needed to improve. With a 4-4 record, the four losses coming to good teams but all in games in which USC had a chance to win, the future isn't looking too bright.
Not that it's all over. But as Downey said, if USC is going to break its NCAA tournament drought, something needs to be done.
"We got to do something before this thing gets out of hand," he said. "We're talking about making the tournament, we won't even make the NIT the way we're playing."
Since he came to USC seven years ago, coach Dave Odom has always had his go-to guy. Kelley took the mantle from Tarence Kinsey, Kinsey took it from Carlos Powell, Powell took it from Michael Boynton and so on.
Downey snatched it this year and has been a fine leader on the court. His first true off-the-court test might have been Saturday.
Like Kelley did a year ago, Downey challenged his teammates to play better. He said the Gamecocks' youth wasn't an excuse because of the talent on the team and blamed himself, as well.
"I was still getting into the lane but I wasn't finishing," he admitted. "A couple of shots I took I should have kicked out.
"(But) big games, certain guys got to step up."
So what's USC's problem?
The Gamecocks don't have much veteran leadership, especially when the lone senior (Dwayne Day) started against Clemson and played nine minutes, with no points and one rebound. The only returning starter from last year, Dominique Archie, scored four points with five boards against the Tigers, spending most of his time on the bench after getting whistled for his second foul with eight minutes gone in the game, complaining about it and receiving a technical foul immediately after.
They also can't rebound effectively with a severe height disadvantage and are still working through the growing pains any team has when it's attempting to play several kids who were in high school this time last year. But the biggest problem, according to Downey, is the perception USC has about its place in the world.
"I feel like right now, we kind of play the bully right now," Downey said. "No disrespect, we get Campbell, The Citadel, those guys, everybody's ready to play. Campbell, beat them by 40, good, hit a (3-pointer), hit your chest, but out here, it's a whole different thing, so guys just got to step up.
"If we're not going to play hard, then all this stuff I'm telling you can go out the window. First of all, either we're going to get down or lay down. I'm going to tell it to my guys when we get back to practice ... do we have heart? I think we do, so we just got to step it up."
The Gamecocks get another chance on Thursday night in Philadelphia, when they take on Providence.