Forty-four years. Forty-four years.
South Carolina’s stretch without a win in the NCAA Tournament has covered lifetimes and a period where all but one Gamecocks team (beach volleyball, currently in its fourth season) has advanced in an NCAA championship event. It’s also seen 201 other teams win at least one game – with UC Davis bidding to become the 202nd on Wednesday.
The Gamecocks will try to stop that streak on Friday against Marquette, one of the last games of the first round. There could be more teams added to the list by that time, but it becomes obsolete with a USC win.
It can’t be that hard, can it?
Yes, it can.
USC lost to Furman, 75-67. Nate Davis scored 16 points, but the Gamecocks barely shot 30 percent in the second half.
“Furman had a great player, Clyde Mayes. Somehow, we just lost our rhythm in the second half,” Davis said. “Clyde was playing well, Alex (English) was playing well, but we just kind of lost that rhythm in the end and we couldn’t pull it out.”
It was the last tournament team in 15 years. Out of the ACC, the Gamecocks’ days as an independent power were over.
“At the time,” Joe Rhett said, “I took it for granted. I thought we’d be going every year.”
Rhett was a freshman that season and was surrounded by Jo Jo English, Brent Price and Terry Dozier. USC scraped into the tournament as a 12-seed and its reward was playing N.C. State, featuring Chris Corchiani, Rodney Monroe and Chucky Brown.
“Three all-time ACC greats,” Rhett said. “It was a tough task for us.”
The Wolfpack blitzed USC 81-66, shooting over 56 percent. A 19-2 first-half run put USC too far down to come back. Still, USC was in the tournament and the good times were here to stay, right?
The Gamecocks didn’t get back for two more coaches and a switch of conferences.
It became the defining game of USC basketball. An awesome team, a championship team, suffered one of the most ignominious defeats in NCAA Tournament history.
“You don’t ever get over the disappointment because you always see it every March,” BJ McKie said. “I think that particular time, you saw a still-immature team that was just happy to be there. We played a hungry team that wasn’t going to lay down.”
It’s happened a lot since, a 15-seed beating a 2-seed. That doesn’t make that group of Gamecocks feel any better, considering every time it does, there’s a graphic on the screen of the previous times.
USC was whipped by Coppin, 78-65. A team many had pegged for the Final Four didn’t get out of the first round. While nobody knew it at the time, it foreshadowed the next year.
“We didn’t talk anything about it, because that’s what everybody else wanted to talk about,” McKie said about prepping for the 1998 tournament. “I knew some of the guys on that team, coached by coach (John) Beilein, and we knew they had a reputation of knocking big teams off.”
Richmond became the first 15 to defeat a 2 when it beat Syracuse in 1991. The Spiders were a 14 in 1998, playing the 3-seed Gamecocks.
It was a close game, USC leading by four with seven minutes to go, but Richmond taking a four-point lead with 3:31 remaining. The Gamecocks cut it to one, but a turnover and two missed shots in the final 77 seconds ended it, 62-61.
“We just weren’t clicking that day,” McKie said. “I think we beat Richmond in a series, but it only takes one game, and that’s what makes March Madness sometimes, especially for us, March Sadness.”
The only tournament appearance in Dave Odom’s tenure as coach was against Memphis, coached by John Calipari.
“You hear all your life about how surreal making the NCAA Tournament is, and it is,” center John Chappell said. “But when we got there, it almost seemed bigger than it was, but at the same time, it wasn’t like going to Kentucky. You show up and there’s maybe 4,000 people there and it’s the first game and you’re in a strange city.”
USC shut down Conference USA Player of the Year Antonio Burks (seven points) and CUSA Rookie of the Year Sean Banks had six. Rodney Carney, who averaged 13 points per game, scored 26 as the Gamecocks couldn’t get enough offense. The Tigers won 59-43.
“I think we made Rodney Carney a pro,” said Brandon Wallace. “We didn’t know who he was before that.”
All of the former USC players want this year’s team to win. They’ve suffered through the drought and seen so many other chances come up short.
“No one expects it to be that long, especially with the teams they had after us,” Chappell said. “They had some good teams that came close and probably had enough talent, but sometimes, that’s just the way it goes.”
All praise the job coach Frank Martin has done and hope he can get the program to take the next step. Former Gamecocks have watched him build the program, and they all know the hardest part is keeping it there.
They say he’s the guy to do it.
“I give Frank so much credit,” Rhett said. “Such a good feeling seeing how excited those guys were. Now, I believe the next goal is to win a game, possibly go to the second week.”
“Had a little drought there, but Carolina basketball is always going to be around,” Davis said. “In between those times, it was rebuilding. You’re building something, you got to stick with one coach.”
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Who: No. 7 USC (22-10) vs. No. 10 Marquette (19-12)
When: Friday, 9:50 p.m.
Where: Bon Secours Wellness Arena, Greenville
Other Friday games in Greenville: Arkansas vs. Seton Hall, 1:30 p.m.; North Carolina vs. Texas Southern, 4 p.m.; Duke vs. Troy, 7:20 p.m.