Somebody eventually had to lose, and the game eventually had to end.
South Carolina threw everything it had into winning the longest game in its history, but ran out of steam in the fourth overtime and lost 90-86 to Alabama on Tuesday.
“I don’t think anybody can question the will to win our kids showed, but we obviously couldn’t make an open shot,” coach Frank Martin said, blaming himself for practicing too hard for USC’s last game. “And that’s a result of some guys being a little tired.”
Martin and his players talked about fatigue because there wasn’t much else they could talk about. Starters Sindarius Thornwell, Duane Notice and P.J. Dozier each played at least 54 minutes.
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The immediate question was how the loss would affect USC (19-5, 9-2 SEC) at the end of the season. The NCAA selection committee doesn’t look at how games were won or lost, just whether they were won or lost.
One would think even the committee would see a four-overtime loss and give a team a break. But the Gamecocks have known all season they can’t let any doubt creep onto their résumé – or their mindset about overcoming Tuesday’s loss.
“We know we’ve got to come out and play every game like it’s our last,” Dozier said. “At the end of the day, it only counts as one loss, even though we played almost two.”
“When the day comes in March, if the committee wants to hold this against us, that we lost, then so be it,” Martin said. “They did it last year, so what’s the difference? We’re used to it.”
Led by Thornwell, who set school, career and SEC records with a 44-point, 21-rebound performance, USC erased a 17-point deficit to force overtime. It overcame blowing a seven-point lead in the second OT, got a tying Thornwell layup with five seconds to go in the third and traded the lead with Alabama in the fourth.
But the inside shots that Thornwell shouldered throughout weren’t approached, and the Gamecocks’ dead legs were leaving 3-pointers short. Notice missed two open 3s in the fourth and Alabama was pounding USC’s battered interior.
Riley Norris’ two free throws ended it. USC’s heart, effort and belief in itself couldn’t be questioned.
Yet it was still a loss, at home, to a team that came in ranked 77th in the RPI. All the Gamecocks could do is pick themselves up and head to Mississippi State on Saturday.
It was an expected battle of the top two defenses in the SEC, but the Tide were hitting shots and USC wasn’t. The Gamecocks were 3 of 30 in the first half and missed 19 consecutive field goals at one point.
The small mistakes rose.
Thornwell, as magnificent as he was, missed a free throw for the lead with 13 seconds in regulation. USC went up seven in the double OT, then gave up two 3-pointers around a Dozier airball. Dozier’s pass to the wing was intercepted by Avery Johnson Jr. (a career-high 23 points) and turned into a lead-taking layup.
USC missed 15 of 50 free-throw attempts. The Gamecocks shot 26.1 percent for the game. Their defense was pushed around for the second game in a row.
They were right there. But they didn’t finish. USC remains in first place in the SEC, tied with Florida and Kentucky.
“We had open shots, good shots,” Thornwell said. “We’d still let those guys shoot the ball. Hopefully, next time the ball goes in for them.”
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ALABAMA (14-9): Key 3-6 0-3 6, Olaniyan 1-1 0-0 2, Hall 3-6 2-2 8, Ingram 2-4 3-6 7, Norris 3-9 5-5 11, Hale 0-3 6-8 6, Taylor 1-1 1-1 3, Johnson 9-21 0-0 23, Davis 6-12 4-6 19, Collins 2-8 1-2 5. Totals 30-71 22-33 90.
SOUTH CAROLINA (19-5): Silva 3-7 3-4 9, Kotsar 1-5 0-0 2, Thornwell 9-25 25-33 44, Dozier 8-24 2-6 21, Notice 1-11 2-4 5, Keita 0-2 0-0 0, Gueye 0-0 0-0 0, McKie 1-9 1-1 3, Blanton 0-2 2-2 2, Felder 0-1 0-0 0, Gravett 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 23-88 35-50 86.
Halftime—Alabama 32-16. End Of Regulation—Tied 57. End Of 1st Overtime—Tied 63. End Of 2nd Overtime—Tied 74. End Of 3rd Overtime—Tied 82. 3-Point Goals—Alabama 8-27 (Johnson 5-10, Davis 3-7, Key 0-2, Norris 0-2, Hale 0-3, Collins 0-3), South Carolina 5-31 (Dozier 3-8, Thornwell 1-7, Notice 1-8, Gravett 0-1, Blanton 0-2, McKie 0-5). Fouled Out—Silva, Kotsar, Key, Taylor, Ingram. Rebounds—Alabama 56 (Norris 14), South Carolina 51 (Thornwell 20). Assists—Alabama 9 (Johnson 3), South Carolina 7 (Thornwell, Dozier 2). Total Fouls—Alabama 36, South Carolina 26. Technicals—Hale.