Once again, a win was in sight. And once again, it slipped away.
Sindarius Thornwell’s desperation 3-pointer to beat the buzzer was far short, and South Carolina lost its fourth straight game, 75-74 to Ole Miss on Saturday. In front of the biggest crowd of the season, the Gamecocks nearly gave all of the returning legends a taste of what they had done for so long and so long ago, but in what’s becoming a repetitive circumstance, let it go by.
“I’m really sick and tired of losing,” coach Frank Martin said. “We’ve got to grow up.”
The Gamecocks (7-10, 0-4 SEC) remained winless in the league on a day where it seemed destined to win. Besides the hoopla of former greats returning to honor coach Frank McGuire and the 11-win football team being honored at halftime, USC had a 10-point halftime lead and was leading by 12 soon after.
But just as it did against Texas A&M in its last game, USC couldn’t sustain. More foul trouble, more missed free throws and especially more turnovers let the Rebels (12-5, 3-1) back in the game, and they certainly knew what to do when they got there. Anthony Perez’ 3-pointer with 2:04 to go broke a 68-all tie, and USC couldn’t find enough big shots or plays to finish.
“It’s not blowouts. It shows that we have a chance,” insisted freshman guard Sindarius Thornwell, who finished with 24 points and 11 rebounds. “We just have to learn how to finish games. We have games right there. We all have to grow up.”
Ole Miss got in position for the 3 when Duane Notice committed his fourth turnover with 2:26 showing. Driving the lane in a tie game, Notice thought he saw Thornwell on the wing as the Rebels’ interior collapsed on him.
“I was instinctively throwing to Sindarius,” Notice said. “I have a bad habit of jumping in the air when I pass the ball. I didn’t know what to do.”
Trying to make something happen, Notice threw to Summers. That possession turned into Perez’ 3 and the last of his 22 points.
He averaged 4.5 coming in.
“He takes the ball and drives it to the rim, and our big guys can’t guard anybody,” Martin said. “Everyone’s doing that to us. That’s been a recurring problem all year.”
But Ole Miss nearly gave the game away. Demarco Cox fouled Brenton Williams as Williams tried to shoot a 3-pointer in a four-point game. The foul gave Williams, one of the best free-throw shooters in the country, three shots. He made them all.
Marshall Henderson, who shook off a cold first half to finish with 19 points, threw the inbounds pass long and Williams ran back to get it. It appeared he tried to call timeout at midcourt, and dribbled the ball out along the side, but USC retained the ball with 1.8 seconds to go.
The Gamecocks discussed it for two timeouts. Laimonas Chatkevicius inbounded to Thornwell, who was closely guarded. His 3-pointer hit front rim and died.
USC had a lot to be proud of. It held Henderson to 5-of-17 shooting. Chatkevicius played well on the offensive end with 14 points. Michael Carrera had his best game in a while with eight points and six rebounds. Thornwell continued his star-making campaign.
But USC again couldn’t avoid the whistles (29 fouls). The Gamecocks missed 12 of 36 free throws, and threw the ball away 21 times.
They didn’t finish.
“We got some guys that are really trying,” Martin said. “We got the timeout, we got the ball and we didn’t get the shot we wanted at the end. Bottom line is, we didn’t execute on the defensive end to get the shot we wanted.”