Looking back at Saturday’s loss at Georgia, USC men’s basketball coach Frank Martin sounded a tone similar to the one he voiced after losing at Alabama.
That is, he saw some encouraging signs, despite another game-ending boondoggle.
“As disappointed as I was in our mismanaging of the last minute and 30 seconds of the Georgia game, I was equally as proud of the resolve and fight that our guys played with to put ourselves in a situation where we were there to win a road game,” Martin said.
The Gamecocks held a 51-47 advantage as regulation ticked away, yet wound up tied at 53 on their final possession. In quick succession, the Gamecocks muffed an inbounds play and coughed up a 3-point basket to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope on a play USC knew was coming.
When the game headed into overtime, the Gamecocks headed for the exits. The 62-54 final was as disheartening as can be imagined.
“We should have come out of there with a win,” junior guard Bruce Ellington said. “We were up and all we had to do was get the ball in and make some free throws.”
Now 13-14 overall and 3-11 in SEC play, the schedule gets a little tougher as an angry Missouri pays a visit Thursday night with a once-certain NCAA tournament bid drifting back toward the bubble.
The Tigers (19-8, 11-6) have struggled on the road while going undefeated at home. Of their home victories — which include a triumph against Florida — perhaps no team challenged the Tigers more than USC.
In their first-ever meeting with the Tigers, USC led most of the way before tiring late in a 71-65 defeat.
One problem, though, when looking to that game for motivation:
“A guy named (Laurence) Bowers is back on the floor,” Martin said, referring to the Tigers’ burly senior forward who was injured when the teams met last month.
“You can argue that he’s a first-team, all-league player. If he hadn’t missed the games that he missed, he probably would be a first-team all-leaguer,” Martin said. “You don’t lose a guy that’s so long, so athletic, that’s a shot-blocker, that can rebound and now can make those perimeter shots along with attacking the rim. You don’t lose a guy like that and become a better team.”
So the Tigers are probably better than they were on Jan. 22, but Ellington is hopeful a season’s worth of close calls will lead to better days for USC.
“We talk about that all the time, how we’re losing games by these little things,” Ellington said. “Not rebounding or not boxing out, stuff like that. Not hitting free throws.
“So I think that’s the big thing: learning from what we did,” Ellington continued. “I think we’ll learn from it. I think we’ll execute better at the end. Go get the ball instead of letting the ball get to us and get a layup and a foul.”
Following Thursday’s game, the Gamecocks will have a short turnaround, heading to Texas A&M for a Saturday night game.