South Carolina was close, really close, to feeling good about itself and its chances to make something memorable out of this season.
Instead, the Gamecocks "rebounded" from a last-second loss to Vanderbilt with a listless, no-gumption 18-point loss to what was previously the last-place team in the SEC East.
"We did not play well on either side of the ball," USC coach Dave Odom said a day after. "We've got a lot of work to do with our team the next two days."
USC (11-12, 3-6 SEC), having again dropped below .500 and into a tie for last in the SEC East, hosts Alabama tonight while running out of time to right the ship. The Gamecocks could possibly win out and be sitting pretty with a 10-6 SEC record at the end of the regular season, but with Florida, Tennessee and SEC West-leading Mississippi State left on the schedule, it's not very likely.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Herald
Still, it's possible. Which is why Odom and the Gamecocks are trying to correct everything in order to win tonight before tackling the rest of the slate.
"We've just got to pull everything together," guard Devan Downey said after the one-point Vanderbilt loss. "Seems like every time we get close, something always happens."
Before the loss to the Commodores, USC had won two straight, including a tough road match at Ole Miss where Dominique Archie hit the game-winning shot with under six seconds to play. Then Downey sank the go-ahead shot against Vandy before Jermaine Beal drove the length of the court for the game-winner.
It was a one-point loss, emotionally ripping but salvageable. But USC went to Georgia three days ago and was down 17-6 in a heartbeat, falling to a team with only seven scholarship players.
"We just couldn't control our defense," Odom said. "I have no idea why."
The Crimson Tide (14-11, 3-7) present the same type of problems, having no doubt watched the Georgia film. They'll hound Downey from the tip to try to force him into another slow start, then pound away in the paint with forwards Richard Hendrix and Demetrius Johnson against USC's small lineup.
The Gamecocks are expecting a solid crowd at the Colonial Center, considering USC legend John Roche is making a rare Columbia appearance. The team is hoping the increased excitement will give it what was obviously missing at Georgia.
"It's tough," said guard Evka Baniulis, who has blossomed into a solid starter during the last nine games, after the Vandy loss. "We've got the talent to compete. We're just holding ourselves back right now."
SOUTH CAROLINA GAMEDAY
ALABAMA (14-11, 3-7 SEC) AT SOUTH CAROLINA (11-12, 3-6)
• When: 7 p.m.
• Where: Colonial Center, Columbia
• TV: FSN (cable channel 29 in Rock Hill)
• On the Web: Live Gametracker stats at uscsports.com
• Tickets: Available at the box office
• Alabama's probable starters: G Alonzo Gee 6-6 Jr. (15.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg); G Mykal Riley 6-6 Sr. (13.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg); G Brandon Hollinger 5-11 Jr. (6.9 ppg, 1.6 rpg); F Demetrius Johnson 6-7 So. (4.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg); F Richard Hendrix 6-9 Jr. (18.7 ppg, 10.3 rpg)
• South Carolina's probable starters: G Devan Downey 5-9 So. (19.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg); G Zam Fredrick 6-0 Jr. (15.9 ppg, 3.3 rpg); G Dwayne Day 6-6 Sr. (5.4 ppg, 3.9 rpg); F Dominique Archie 6-7 So. (10.7 ppg, 6.1 rpg); F Evka Baniulis 6-7 So. (5.2 ppg, 2.1 rpg)
• Notes: Alabama leads the series 19-10. ... USC tries to rebound from two straight losses, including a listless shellacking at Georgia. ... The Gamecocks are tied with the Bulldogs for last in the SEC East while the Crimson Tide are a half-game out of last in the SEC West. ... Hendrix is the only player in the SEC averaging a double-double. ... Riley has scored 75 points in his last four games. ... Former All-American and ACC Player of the Year John Roche will be honored at halftime as part of the team's centennial celebration.
• Up next: The Gamecocks play at 8 p.m. on Wednesday at Florida.