Gamecocks drop third straight contest
The 3-point line was first incorporated into college basketball in 1980. After South Carolina's 76-67 loss to Providence on Thursday, the smattering of Gamecock fans in attendance at Colonial Life Arena likely wished they could jump into a modified DeLorean or whatever their preferred time-travel device would be, head back 31 years and stop the Southern Conference (whose teams USC can't ever seem to beat on the road, coincidentally) from introducing the arc in the first place.
The Gamecocks' porous 6-of-30 effort from 3-point range wasn't the only reason why they lost their third straight game and fell to 2-5 on the season against the Friars, but it sure didn't help.
"If we feel like it's a makeable shot, we just shoot," said guard Eric Smith. "Coach (Darrin) Horn just wants us to be aggressive."
That mentality hindered USC a bit in this game. Horn stresses inside out shooting when it comes to 3-pointers, and says he never wants to tell his players to stop shooting. But USC didn't play inside out for much of the night, and a halt on the deep balls would have been understandable.
Seven Gamecocks attempted at least one 3-pointer in the game, but only two — Smith and forward Malik Cooke — made their shots, as both had three each. Horn also said the failure to capitalize on success on the offensive glass hurt USC. USC outrebounded Providence 40-34, including a 20-7 advantage in offensive boards.
"We didn't have enough putbacks out of that," Horn said. "You have to finish those. Those are the kind of easy baskets that we've got to get and put back in."
After scoring the first basket of the game, USC trailed Providence for the final 38:47 of regulation, with the Friars' lead growing as big as 14 points at one time.
The Gamecocks pulled to within four points, 51-47, with 8:59 remaining in the game after Brian Richardson converted a traditional 3-point play, sinking his free throw after being fouled on a made layup. But then Providence went on a 6-0 run to push its lead back to 10, and USC never got closer than 7 over the final 6:25.
"We've got to put a complete game together," Horn said. "That's basically the bottom line. Until we do that, it's going to be tough to be good."
Cooke led all scorers with 21 points. Smith had 16 as well for the Gamecocks, while LaDontae Henton and Gerard Coleman each had 18 for Providence (6-2). Bruce Ellington, playing in his first game since returning to the team from football, had six points in 27 minutes of play.
"I think you have to credit him, the heart and toughness he showed that you'd expect from a fifth-year senior there," said Horn of Cooke.
After the game ended and USC's players went to thank the 15 or so student fans — a Garnet infantry, if you will — with some high fives, the speakers blasted Andy Williams' classic Christmas song "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year," to send the sparse crowd off into the cold air and final few hours of the first day of December after witnessing USC limp to its worst start in almost half a century.
If this — another home loss punctuated by poor shooting and lacking defense and such — is indeed representative of what will be the most wonderful part of USC's season, then much bigger issues lay on the horizon. But the Gamecocks say they believe they're getting closer to being the type of winning team they aspire to be.
"I definitely see ourselves taking strides," Smith said. "We had a great week of practice, but we didn't get it done today in the game."