The Daily Gamecock

Gamecocks lose at home to Tennessee State 64-63

USC suffers another disappointing setback

If there is such a place as rock bottom, the USC men's basketball team found it on Sunday night.

USC almost salvaged the game with a late rally after trailing Tennessee State by 22 points six minutes into the second half. With 4.2 seconds on the game clock, Tennessee State’s Robert Covington found himself on the free throw line for a one-and-one, his team clinging to a one-point lead over the Gamecocks.

Covington missed the free throw, but USC turned the ball over on its final possession to bring a painful end to a 64-63 loss at Colonial Life Arena on Sunday. The loss marks Carolina’s second straight, and coach Darrin Horn said fans have every right to be disappointed in the Gamecocks’ early-season struggles.

“They should be disappointed,” Horn said. “We haven’t played well. We’ve lost two games. We have to keep getting better. We have to keep working with these guys and make progress and get better and make sure that we play our best basketball at the end of the season.”

A stagnant offense scored just 19 points in the first half, shooting 22.7 percent from the field and turning the ball over 12 times. The opening minutes of the second half brought no relief, as the Tigers made seven of their first nine shots to extend their 14-point halftime lead.

“We didn’t play well,” Horn said. “Offensively, when that’s not going well, it can affect things. But defensively we had some lapses. They didn’t score a ton of points ... but I think the biggest thing was taking care of the basketball. It led to some easy baskets for them and kept us from getting offensive opportunities, and that really hurt.”

Eric Smith and R.J. Slawson led the Gamecock rally in the second half, finishing with 18 and 10 points, respectively, and forcing turnovers that disrupted the Tigers’ offense.

“R.J. got his hands on at least two balls, maybe three, and Eric really applied a lot of pressure at the top,” Horn said. “That was a huge part of getting us back in it because they weren’t scoring when they were turning it over, and we turned some of them into baskets.”

Malik Cooke, who finished the game with 10 points and three blocks but turned the ball over four times, credited the coaches for preparing USC but took responsibility for his team’s poor first-half showing.

“To [Horn’s] credit, he and the coaching staff did everything to prepare us for the game,” Cooke said. “We just came out flat in the first half, and that’s on the players. We really have to work on that in order to be successful. We just do what we have to do to get back in the game, and we just came up short tonight because we didn’t do the little things.”

USC has just two days to dwell on its loss before Mississippi Valley State comes to Columbia on Tuesday. Horn said he expects the players to respond and give fans a reason to keep supporting them.

“They have to respond because they have pride in representing South Carolina, pride in playing in this league, pride as a player,” Horn said. “At some point, you have to be a player. We can sit here and talk about confidence ... You have to make your own confidence a little bit.”

Now that they have found rock bottom, the Gamecocks will begin their search for a way to climb out with an attitude that would make Annie proud.

“We have to prepare like we want to come and win games,” Cooke said. “If we don’t do that, we can lose any given night. We’re just going to come out and focus on that and get to work tomorrow.”


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