Back in October, when all seemed rosy, Darrin Horn summed up the expectations for USC:
"It's funny. You look around the country, and from the reports that have been given to me, we're anywhere from fourth to fifth in our own division. But if you run into somebody on the street in Columbia, it's going to be the best team ever," Horn said. "I don't know where the answer is. I'd rather be best team ever, but I think for this team it's going to be really important not to get caught up in either of those."
Horn was right to be cautious, but USC's downfall would be caused by circumstances no one could have imagined.
A season of high hopes turned sour within a month and, despite several shining moments, likely ended Thursday with a quick exit from the SEC tournament.
This will not be a season many fans will look back on fondly after USC's 15-16 finish (6-10 in SEC play), but it be the most confounding season in recent history. Consider this: While the top four teams in the East Division went undefeated vs. the West, South Carolina went 2-5, including the SEC tournament loss to Alabama.
And yet that same South Carolina team also beat Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Florida.
Here are some of the highlights, lowlights and other notables from the Gamecocks' 2009-2010 season:
The fans rushing the court to celebrate the win against Kentucky on Jan. 26, USC's first win against a No. 1-ranked team.
Dominique Archie coming down awkwardly on his knee after a dunk against Miami on Nov. 22. Archie was lost for the season, and the Gamecocks were never the same.
A tie between freshmen Lakeem Jackson and Ramon Galloway. Jackson started every game and did yeoman's work as a 6-foot-5 power forward after the injuries to Archie and Mike Holmes. Galloway provided an offensive spark, hitting the third-most 3-pointers on the team.
MOST SURPRISING PLAYER
Center Sam Muldrow made a bigger jump than expected, becoming a player that will be on the NBA radar next season.
MOST INCONSISTENT PLAYER
Also Muldrow. The junior's scoring and rebounding numbers fluctuated, summed up by the final game: 13 points in the first half and zero in the second.
MOST CONSISTENT PLAYER
Downey. After Archie's injury, the point guard was the Gamecocks' leading scorer in all but one game. And that was with the opposition focusing on him.
Downey scored USC's first basket in only six of 31 games. Jackson, who averaged about seven points per game, scored first nine times.
Jackson's free throw percentage. He shot 27 percent overall and 4-for-26 in SEC games.
BEST SUM-UP QUOTE
"It's seemed like a rollercoaster ride. A lot of highs and a lot of lows. It sucks to end it this way, but you've just got to move on in life." - Senior guard Brandis Raley-Ross after Thursday's loss