Once again, the postgame locker room was one of dejection, blank stares and deep sighs.
There was a difference this time, however. During this same scene five days earlier, USC may have felt like its season was over.
Following Tuesday night’s 70-63 loss to Davidson in the NIT, it really was.
“I’m still emotional right now. I can’t believe the season ended like this,” sophomore forward Mike Holmes said.
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The loss snapped a 10-game NIT winning streak for South Carolina.
The Gamecocks (21-10) finished the season losing four of their final five, the lone win coming against Georgia.
The big question entering the night for USC was which would be the bigger obstacle: Davidson star Stephen Curry, or having to play 48 hours after being rejected by the NCAA tournament selection committee?
The answer appeared to be Curry, who poured in 32 points, including some pivotal points down the stretch to put away the Gamecocks.
The Gamecocks scoffed at the notion that the quick turnaround was a factor.
“I didn’t feel that way,” Horn said. “I was worried about that, but we practiced really well yesterday (and) had a crisp walk through. And we came out defensively and were really flying around in the first half.”
Junior forward Evka Baniulis said there were a number of players who were disappointed and “maybe it did have an effect.”
Senior Zam Fredrick thought differently.
“We got our minds right to get ready for this game,” Fredrick said. “A nationally-televised game against one of the best players in the country. If you can’t get up for that then you’re not a college basketball player. We had three days.”
But Davidson coach Bob McKillop did make the comparison. He pointed out his team “had a week to decompress” after losing in the Southern Conference tournament semifinals.
“Our guys were angry, intense, irrational, disappointed. A host of negative emotions enveloped our entire team,” McKillop said. “And having gone through that for an entire period of four or five days, they got over it on Saturday.”
If USC needed a reason to get into it, things got heated about halfway through the half. A couple controversial calls nearly got Horn a technical and riled up the crowd. The players also had a few testy exchanges.
Horn later drew a technical with 8:40 to go in the game.
USC’s leads were brief while Davidson led by as many as 11. The game went back-and-forth in the second half — until Curry took over for good.
With two men on him, Curry stepped out and nailed a 3-pointer to make it 60-55 with just under six minutes remaining. Fredrick’s reverse layup rimmed out on the next USC possession, and Davidson’s Will Archambault hit a layup to extend the lead to seven.
Over the next couple minutes the Gamecocks kept closing to within five, and Curry kept answering: a backdoor layup, a jumper while falling down and two free throws.
“We couldn’t put the combination of stops and buckets together,” Horn said. “But we don’t want this to take away from, as we told our players, from what this team has done this year.”
DAVIDSON (27-7) | Rossiter 0-1 0-0 0, Lovedale 7-13 3-6 17, Paulhus Gosselin 1-2 1-4 4, Archambault 4-8 0-2 8, Curry 9-19 9-10 32, McKillop 1-1 0-0 2, Barr 1-4 2-3 4, Nelms 0-0 0-1 0, Allison 1-3 1-4 3. Totals 24-51 16-30 70.
SOUTH CAROLINA (21-10) | Archie 1-3 2-4 4, Holmes 4-6 4-5 12, Muldrow 1-1 3-6 5, Downey 5-14 8-8 18, Fredrick 4-13 2-2 10, Raley-Ross 2-8 0-2 5, Conrad 1-5 0-0 2, Wilder 0-0 0-0 0, Steed 2-2 0-0 4, Baniulis 1-4 0-0 3. Totals 21-56 19-27 63.
Halftime_Davidson 28-26. 3-Point Goals_Davidson 6-15 (Curry 5-9, Paulhus Gosselin 1-2, Barr 0-1, Archambault 0-3), South Carolina 2-10 (Baniulis 1-2, Raley-Ross 1-3, Fredrick 0-1, Downey 0-2, Conrad 0-2). Fouled Out_Fredrick, Rossiter. Rebounds_Davidson 35 (Lovedale 9), South Carolina 37 (Holmes 8). Assists_Davidson 16 (Allison, Curry, Paulhus Gosselin 3), South Carolina 7 (Downey 4). Total Fouls_Davidson 24, South Carolina 27. Technical_South Carolina Bench. A_7,251.