College Sports

Downey tries to limit frustration

Of course it's frustrating. Devan Downey didn't transfer from Cincinnati to South Carolina thinking he was going to be part of a losing program.

But if he lets the disappointment affect his play, the Gamecocks may lose the best weapon they have.

"As a leader, I get frustrated, but it's all a process," Downey said after USC's 73-71 loss to Florida a week ago. "But if I get frustrated, they get frustrated, and that's not going to help the team."

Downey played on winning teams at Chester High School and at Cincinnati. Sitting out his mandatory year after transferring from the Bearcats, he was on the bench in a shirt and tie knowing he could be on the floor helping USC avoid a 4-12 SEC season last year.

His play has been fine. The team's play has not.

It's hard to see how Downey could possibly do more than what he's doing. After a 78-70 loss at Kentucky four days ago, Downey's leading the SEC with 20.1 points per game. In conference games, he's averaging 24.4 points, more than two points ahead of second-place Marcus Thornton of LSU.

And the Gamecocks are still 9-10, 1-4 in the SEC, tied with Alabama for second-last in the league, just ahead of winless LSU. It's not that USC is being blown away, but the Gamecocks just can't find that little push at the end of the game.

"We really felt like we controlled the first 36 minutes of the game," Downey said about the Florida loss. "We're just not doing what it takes to win."

The Gamecocks' last two games have followed the same formula -- USC is close behind or ahead the majority of the game and falls in the last five minutes. It's not an unfamiliar scene.

It seems as if Dave Odom's clubs the past three years have done the same thing, every time they're close to notching big wins. Odom recognized the development after the Florida loss and tried to explain it.

"We've got to play more cerebral basketball in the clutch," he finally said. "It's almost like we take plays off. You can't take plays off at this level, you can't do that. This game penalizes you for your sins."

While Downey and guard Zam Fredrick have been solid contributors in every game, the rest of the Gamecocks have been up and down. Swingman Dominique Archie has put together a three-game stretch of good basketball but isn't getting much help.

Dwayne Day isn't consistent scoring or playing defense. Sam Muldrow, a raw freshman, continues to learn on the job. Mike Holmes has played sparingly and when he's been on the court, hasn't flashed the potential with which everybody's labeled him. Evka Baniulis has upgraded his defense -- and his personal fouls -- but has been hesitant to launch the 3-pointers that define his game.

It all adds up to a downhill slide that's threatening to turn Odom's final season into one just like the year before.

But there's still time to turn it around. Georgia (11-6, 2-2) visits Columbia tonight and offers another chance for the Gamecocks to reverse the skid.

"We've just got to make plays down the stretch to win ballgames," said Downey, who hit a late jumper in the final minute for USC's only SEC win, over Arkansas. "We come out and play hard ... but want to win, period."