It’s crossing into the realm of the supernatural.
South Carolina lost another close game on Sunday, 68-63 to Akron in the third-place game of the Charleston Classic, the third loss of the season, all by five or fewer points. Like the other two, the Gamecocks (2-3) were right there at the end, ready to get the reclamation project rolling and didn’t.
This time, it was Duane Notice slipping while holding the ball and trailing by three points, 30 seconds to go and waiting for the perfect shot to open. That became an Akron fast break and USC foul, and while Sindarius Thornwell hit a 3 to make it 66-63 in the final seconds, the Gamecocks’ best chance had disappeared.
“We’re maybe four possessions away from being undefeated, but we’re not,” coach Frank Martin said. “Bottom line is that we’re that close.”
Martin insisted after Friday’s two-point loss to Charlotte that USC’s ability to win these kinds of games is coming. Watching the Gamecocks rally from a 12-point deficit with 16 minutes to play on Sunday, one could see the map laid out.
A game of horrendous shooting in the first half evened, the Gamecocks’ ferocious rebounding paying off and the whistle finally blowing on contact under the basket. The Gamecocks were either tied or trailing by one point four times in the final seven minutes.
Laimonas Chatkevicius missed a lead-taking free throw. Marcus Stroman went 1-of-2 from the line in a two-point game. Chatkevicius and Ty Johnson each had shots to tie or take the lead in the final four minutes, and each missed.
The Gamecocks didn’t score for over four of the final five minutes. Yet Thornwell drained a 3 to make it 63-60 with 34 seconds to play, and then the Gamecocks forced a turnover.
With the ball and a chance to take the last shot and send it to overtime, USC inbounded and Notice got the ball on the right wing. His feet on the temporary decal that read “Gildan Charleston Classic,” Notice began his move and his feet went out from under him.
Asked what happened, Martin answered for Notice. “It’s a joke that they put those things on the floor,” he said. “It’s a joke, because they’re slippery, they don’t have grip, and every tournament all over the place, that takes place. And if I get in trouble for saying that, so be it.”
The Gamecocks again couldn’t find a consistent offensive approach, Thornwell scoring 13 but shooting 4-of-12, and Johnson adding seven to give him 14 in three tournament games. USC shook off a cold first half to finish with 39.1 percent shooting, and shot 20 free throws for the game after seven in the first half.
But they couldn’t get that one crucial bucket. Like Baylor and Charlotte, the Gamecocks had chances but couldn’t convert.
Martin went back to a gloomy locker room and preached that there’s a long season ahead.
“We just want to keep a positive mind in the locker room,” Notice said. “What we can control is our effort and our attention to details. I feel like we came out a little flat.”
“We’re trying to figure out who we are. We’ve got good days, we’ve got bad days. That’s all I talk about, how good a team we can be,” Martin said, before stressing how his teams traditionally play much better at the end of the year. “They’re going to put me under the ground before I ever give in. My teams grow into that.”
Cheatham Jr. 3-9 6-6 13, McAdams 1-3 1-3 3, Forsythe 4-6 1-2 9, Evans 4-6 0-0 8, Robotham 4-11 6-8 16, Treadwell 0-0 0-0 0, Ibitayo 4-9 6-6 15, Gladden 0-1 0-0 0, Kretzer 0-3 2-2 2, Johnson 0-0 0-0 0, An. Jackson 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 21-50 22-27 68.
SOUTH CAROLINA (2-3)
Henry 1-7 1-3 3, Carrera 1-5 0-4 2, Thornwell 4-12 4-4 13, Johnson 2-8 3-5 7, Notice 5-9 1-1 12, Stroman 4-7 1-2 9, Chatkevicius 5-12 1-1 11, Kacinas 3-4 0-0 6. Totals 25-64 11-20 63.
Halftime: Akron 30-25. 3-Point Goals: Akron 4-20 (Robotham 2-4, Ibitayo 1-4, Cheatham Jr. 1-5, Evans 0-1, An. Jackson 0-1, McAdams 0-2, Kretzer 0-3), South Carolina 2-10 (Notice 1-3, Thornwell 1-4, Carrera 0-1, Johnson 0-1, Chatkevicius 0-1). Fouled Out: None. Rebounds: Akron 32 (Robotham 6), South Carolina 45 (Henry 9). Assists: Akron 6 (Evans, Robotham 2), South Carolina 11 (Notice, Stroman 4). Total Fouls: Akron 19, South Carolina 20. Attendance: 1,523.