It’s painful to lose to a Baylor or Arkansas or Ole Miss when South Carolina isn’t at the point to beat teams like those.
A loss like Friday’s redefines misery.
The Gamecocks, after dominating early, being out-classed for 20 minutes, and making a run to get back in the game, handed a 65-63 win to Charlotte by missing two point-blank shots, and then fouling up on a play in the final two minutes.
USC (2-2) tossed a game it could have won onto the pile of what-might-have-been, finding a way to lose after the 49ers (3-0) did a lot to make sure the Gamecocks won.
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“Eventually, we got to win one of these games,” USC coach Frank Martin sighed.
The Gamecocks play Akron at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday in the consolation game.
USC didn’t allow a field goal in the final three minutes. Sindarius Thornwell scored 20 points. Twenty-six of its 37 rebounds were defensive, they scored 18 points off turnovers and shot almost 43 percent from the field.
So what happened?
The Gamecocks were leading 32-18 in the first half, Thornwell having scored 18 points, but after the last media timeout, it was as if an on/off switch had been toggled. As Martin said, Charlotte came out with the mindset of “Here’s the ball, it’s going to the rim, stop it if you can.”
The Gamecocks couldn’t, slipping behind until Mindaugas Kacinas nearly single-handedly brought them back. The junior forward scored seven straight points to erase a 55-50 deficit and give USC the lead, and, from there, it see-sawed through the final seven minutes.
Thornwell hit his two second-half points to tie the game at 63 with 1:53 to go, and then blocked Terrence Williams’ 3-point attempt. Marcus Stroman retrieved and threw to Thornwell on the break, but the sophomore missed a shot two feet from the hole.
Duane Notice was there to catch the carom and put it back up, but center Mike Thorne never gave up on the play. Thorne caught up to Notice and swatted the shot from behind.
“We got two point-blank layups to take the lead ... and we get nothing out of it,” Martin said.
Thorne swished two free throws for a 65-63 lead. With 14 seconds to play, the Gamecocks were going to inbound at half-court. Martin was going for a 3 and the win.
Kacinas stood at half-court and the whistle blew. USC’s players began rotating on their end of the court. Nearing the five-second call, Kacinas threw to the sideline – and Charlotte tipped it out-of-bounds to prevent a USC turnover.
The Gamecocks re-set. Instead of having a man flash beyond half-court to take the ball (which also would have allowed Charlotte to set its defense), USC elected to try the same play.
Kacinas called a timeout too late and turned the ball over on a five-second count.
“The play was designed to run all kinds of stuff and then throw it to Laimonas (Chatkevicius) for a top-of-the-key 3,” Martin said. “He was wide-open. (Kacinas) didn’t make the pass.”
Martin blamed himself for not practicing the play enough.
“That’s on me,” he said. “Can’t live with the five-second count. I can’t live with it because I feel like I haven’t put our guys in that situation in practice enough. You have to get a shot attempt.”
USC still had life when Thorne missed two free throws, surviving a reviewed and overturned call where the second miss seemed to bounce off a USC player. But the 49ers had fouls to give – they had 13 fouls to the Gamecocks’ 21, and shot 19 free throws to USC’s nine – and used them to bleed the clock.
Thornwell had a look from 3 to win the game with less than two seconds to play but missed. The buzzer sounded and USC was once again left staring at a too-close result.
Clayton 5-9 1-1 11, Thorne Jr. 4-8 2-5 10, Ogbueze 4-9 3-4 14, Williams 3-5 0-0 7, Henry 3-9 6-7 12, Dorn 1-2 0-1 2, Woods 2-4 1-1 6, Benkovic 1-5 0-0 3, Blakley 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 23-53 13-19 65.
SOUTH CAROLINA (2-2)
Carrera 5-8 0-0 11, Henry 2-2 0-0 4, Thornwell 8-24 3-4 20, Johnson 0-4 0-0 0, Notice 3-10 2-2 9, Stroman 1-2 2-2 4, Chatkevicius 2-4 0-0 4, Theus Jr. 0-0 0-0 0, McKie 0-1 0-0 0, Kacinas 5-5 1-1 11, Steele 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 26-61 8-9 63.
Halftime: South Carolina 36-29. 3-Point Goals: Charlotte 6-17 (Ogbueze 3-5, Woods 1-1, Williams 1-2, Benkovic 1-4, Dorn 0-1, Henry 0-2, Blakley 0-2), South Carolina 3-18 (Carrera 1-2, Notice 1-4, Thornwell 1-10, Steele 0-1, McKie 0-1). Fouled Out: None. Rebounds: Charlotte 32 (Henry, Williams 7), South Carolina 37 (Thornwell 8). Assists: Charlotte 6 (Henry, Ogbueze 2), South Carolina 13 (Notice 5). Total Fouls: Charlotte 13, South Carolina 21. Attendance: 2,430.