It was a familiar refrain.
“A shame we let a great opportunity for our program kind of escape,” South Carolina men’s basketball coach Frank Martin said after Tuesday’s 69-65 loss to Baylor. “For this team, this is good. Not losing. Losing’s never good. But playing this kind of game is good for our team.”
The game was tossed onto a growing pile of similarity from the past two years. The Gamecocks (1-1) had a high-profile team in their sights, and made just enough mistakes to not get it done. USC lost by two points at Baylor last year, a game the Gamecocks had under control and gave away, but this time it was the Bears (2-0) controlling the game and USC having to fight to get back in it.
The Gamecocks did, cutting a 10-point deficit to 64-61 with 2:24 to play when freshman Marcus Stroman put back a missed Sindarius Thornwell layup. Baylor’s Kenny Chery missed, and Michael Carrera rebounded, but Thornwell passed up an open look from the 3-point line and Ty Johnson’s attempt was wide left.
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Johnathan Motley tipped a Chery carom up and in for a five-point lead with 51 seconds to go, and the Gamecocks could get no closer than two points the rest of the way. Chery iced the game with the final two of his 20 points with three second remaining.
“That came down to who wanted it more,” said a frustrated Johnson, who scored a career-high 21. “They probably outrebounded us, they got loose balls, they were able to make big shots, and we weren’t.”
Baylor’s 2-3 zone of rangy, lengthy athletes befuddled the Gamecocks and shut off their inside game, turning possessions into 25 seconds of passing the ball from wing to wing before either shooting a 3-pointer or driving inside, hoping for a foul or for those long arms to be in the wrong place. Thornwell had 16 points, Stroman and Carrera 10 each, but USC’s post game was missing.
Demetrius Henry had four points and four fouls. Laimonas Chatkevicius had four points, and Mindaugas Kacinas had none. USC hit 5-of-21 3-pointers and suffered through a scoreless game from starter Duane Notice.
“It was kind of frustrating, because the way they played their zone was kind of different from a regular 2-3 zone,” Thornwell said. “They denied and pushed the wings up. They stopped our driving lanes.”
“That’s what zones do,” Martin said. “We have to be able to pass the ball in there. We took some 3s where the ball never got past the foul line. Those are not good shots.”
The Bears shot 44.7 percent and had three players in double figures.
Baylor scored the final six points of the first half to take a 30-27 advantage.
After Thornwell made a 3 for a 36-35 lead three minutes into the second half,. the Bears scored the next seven points. USC’s small mistakes – not boxing out on a missed 3, a three-second call while trying to preserve a three-point lead – were each turned into Baylor points.
Another tough loss, but Martin is hoping it pays off at the end of the year. The Gamecocks will see why they lost and work on not letting it happen again.
“We’ll be better because of this game,” Martin said. “It’s the second game of the year. We didn’t schedule this game for any reason other than to challenge our team and give our program unbelievable exposure against a big-time opponent.”
O'Neale 2-4 5-6 9, Chery 6-16 5-6 20, Gathers 0-1 0-0 0, Medford 3-7 4-5 12, Motley 6-9 5-5 17, Prince 2-3 0-2 5, Wainright 0-0 0-0 0, Freeman 0-3 0-0 0, Deng 2-4 2-2 6. Totals 21-47 21-26 69.
SOUTH CAROLINA (1-1)
Thornwell 5-12 5-7 16, Johnson 9-16 0-0 21, Notice 0-2 0-0 0, Henry 1-4 2-2 4, Carrera 3-8 4-4 10, Stroman 3-6 3-4 10, Chatkevicius 1-2 2-2 4, Kacinas 0-2 0-0 0, Steele 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 22-54 16-19 65.
Halftime: Baylor 30-27. 3-Point Goals: Baylor 6-18 (Chery 3-9, Medford 2-3, Prince 1-1, Motley 0-1, Freeman 0-2, O'Neale 0-2), South Carolina 5-21 (Johnson 3-9, Stroman 1-3, Thornwell 1-6, Carrera 0-1, Steele 0-2). Fouled Out: Carrera, Thornwell. Rebounds_Baylor 29 (O'Neale 7), South Carolina 33 (Henry 8). Assists: Baylor 9 (O'Neale 7), South Carolina 11 (Thornwell 4). Total Fouls: Baylor 20, South Carolina 21. Attendance: 13,291