Even after the final horn sounded, there was a chance for South Carolina to win.
The Gamecocks huddled around their bench, hoping that Michael Carrera would be awarded two free throws that could tie the game. Trailing No. 23 Baylor 66-64, having thrown away so many opportunities, the Gamecocks still had a chance.
But after a review, and after officials called coach Frank Martin over, Martin’s expression told the story. The contact had come after the horn, there was no other chance, and the Gamecocks (1-1) had a signature win slip away.
So, so close.
But a 66-64 loss.
“Our resolve is good,” Martin said. “We didn’t rebound it the way we needed to, back-to-back free-throw misses in the second half that lead to Brady Heslip 3s, and that went from us having the lead to us being down. Unfortunate. But it’s 30 games, not two games, and I like where we’re at.”
Martin made it clear last season that he wasn’t into moral victories. It was terrific that a young USC team took Baylor’s best punches and didn’t back down, but the game was a loss.
The Gamecocks’ offense was fluid and their defense was solid against the Bears’ burly post players. USC hit its free throws in a whistle-stocked game and answered Baylor (2-0) almost every time the Bears took the lead. Freshman Sindarius Thornwell led the Gamecocks with 20 points.
USC never gave up, having three cracks at the game-tying basket in the final 16.7 seconds, but the ball never found the basket.
Thornwell drove the baseline in the final ticks, but his shot missed and the ball disappeared into a scrum of arms. Thornwell tipped it up but away, and once Carrera grabbed it and tried to shoot, he was hit by Cory Jefferson and the whistle blew.
As it turned out, it was after the final buzzer. There was no argument from Martin.
Just regret from what the Gamecocks nearly had.
USC answered every Baylor move, even as Heslip continued to knock down 3-pointers. He had three that gave the Bears the lead each time, but the Gamecocks continued to punish the Bears in transition.
A Heslip 3-pointer, rebounded off a missed free throw, gave the Bears a five-point lead in the final 10 minutes. The Gamecocks fought back to tie with a little more than three minutes to play.
The mistakes began to pile up. Ty Johnson streaked downcourt with nobody ahead of him, yet missed a wide-open layup. “There’s just no excuse,” he lamented.
Trailing by a point with around 90 seconds to play, Thornwell tried to drive baseline and his outlet pass was tipped away with four seconds on the shot clock. Having to throw to near midcourt with the inbound pass, Brenton Williams was too far away for a good shot and his 3-pointer was way off.
With less than 50 seconds to play, Johnson missed another layup. That led to intentionally fouling Kenny Chery and putting him on the line, where he missed one of two shots.
The Gamecocks got to midcourt and called timeout, and the play was what they wanted. It just didn’t work.
“The guy went under Mike’s ball screen and I told Sin, ‘Sin, when you’re playing against a zone, when a guy goes under that screen, it’s hard to score at the rim. You got to jump up and shoot it,’” Martin said. “But give Sin credit. He drove that thing in there, tried to create a foul, and get to the line.”
The loss hurt, but there was nothing else to do but head home and get ready for the next practice and the next game. Youthful mistakes, some veteran mistakes, but nothing that is impossible to fix.
“Our whole focus tomorrow, as we get on this plane, is one of positive vibes,” Martin said. “We as coaches have to do our jobs to help these guys see some of the things that we’re trying to explain to them. You have to learn from it.”
SOUTH CAROLINA (1-1)
Thornwell 6-13 7-10 20, Johnson 1-7 6-9 8, Henry 4-10 1-4 9, Carrera 1-5 6-6 8, Kacinas 1-2 0-0 2, Williams 3-7 4-4 12, Notice 1-2 0-0 2, Chatkevicius 1-3 0-0 2, Ringer 0-1 1-3 1. Totals 18-50 25-36 64.
Chery 3-5 3-4 9, Franklin 0-2 0-0 0, Austin 4-6 6-8 14, Wainright 0-1 0-2 0, Jefferson 2-7 3-7 7, O'Neale 1-4 3-9 5, Gathers 1-2 3-5 5, Heslip 5-12 3-6 18, Prince 3-10 1-2 8. Totals 19-49 22-43 66.
Halftime: South Carolina 39-38.
3-Point Goals: South Carolina 3-8 (Williams 2-5, Thornwell 1-2, Carrera 0-1), Baylor 6-17 (Heslip 5-10, Prince 1-2, Chery 0-1, Jefferson 0-1, Franklin 0-1, O'Neale 0-2). Fouled Out: Kacinas. Rebounds: South Carolina 35 (Carrera 7), Baylor 46 (Prince 12). Assists: South Carolina 14 (Johnson 8), Baylor 12 (O'Neale, Wainright 4). Total Fouls: South Carolina 29, Baylor 26. Attendance: 5,706.