Chris Silva acknowledged the question, knowing what needs to change for South Carolina’s basketball team going forward.
“Sure,” said the USC forward, “we got to know how to lock in when it stars getting hard and focus and execute what Coach is calling. We can’t get (caught up) in emotion. With the pressure, we can’t get out of mind.
“It’s going to come with practice. We’re getting better. I feel like we’re getting better.”
Part IV of Carolina’s toughest four-game stretch this season came and went Saturday afternoon. The Gamecocks faced another ranked opponent. They competed against No. 14 Texas Tech for 30-plus minutes before fading down the stretch in a 70-63 loss at Colonial Life Arena.
If the 14,142 fans had flashbacks to last week loss to Tennessee, they had company. Frank Martin was thinking the same.
“Couldn’t close it out – just like Tennessee, same thing,” said Carolina’s coach.
The Gamecocks are 13-8 after falling to the Red Raiders (17-4) in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. A few breaks here and there and USC could be 15-6 heading into Wednesday’s game with Mississippi State.
But what Carolina did in wins against No. 18 Kentucky (Jan. 16) and No. 20 Florida (Jan. 24), it didn’t do in defeats to the No. 21 Volunteers and Texas Tech. Finding consistency in their finishes is the next step for the Gamecocks as they aim for a second straight NCAA Tournament bid.
Texas Tech outscored USC 17-5 over the final 6:17. Tennessee, en route to its 70-63 win at CLA last Saturday, scored 11 of the game’s final 15 points.
“They locked in,” said Silva, who paced South Carolina with 16 points. “We lost our mind and they locked in – that’s it. We didn’t do a good job of executing, making shots, stopping the ball.
“They locked in, and we didn’t.”
With 2:28 remaining, Wes Myers, a hero in Gainesville, missed consecutive free throws, keeping the Gamecocks at a slim two-point advantage. Sixteen seconds later, Keenan Evans popped a wing 3-pointer to give the Red Raiders a lead they never gave back.
Evans, Myers’ point guard counterpart, led all scorers with 31 points. That’s the most by an individual player against South Carolina since Tennessee’s Kevin Punter dropped 36 on the Gamecocks on Jan. 23, 2016.
“That was the difference,” Martin said. “Their point guard didn’t let our point guards drive, and he drove and scored 31 and we got zero.”
Myers, who scored 22 points at Florida, was held to two points in 22 minutes. Hassani Gravett, who relieved Myers (four fouls) for 23 minutes, didn’t make a field goal.
Evans made all 13 of his free throw attempts, including five in the final 3:15.
“Keenan Evans is one of the best players in college basketball,” said Texas Tech coach Chris Beard. “To me, he doesn’t get a lot of respect nationally. People are kind of just starting to get on the wagon. … I’ve coached a lot of good players at all different levels and Keenan’s one of the best players I’ve ever coached.”
South Carolina didn’t take its first lead in this game until the 12:29 mark of the second half when Frank Booker beat the shot clock with a 3. A Justin Minaya put-back gave USC a 46-44 advantage with 10:45 to go.
Things peaked for the Gamecocks when Felipe Haase’s 3 put Carolina up five with 6:17 left.
“Disappointed,” Martin said. “Two Saturdays in a row, at home against a real good team, and both times, heading into the last media timeout, the game’s in the balance and we’re playing pretty good and both times we just get out-toughed coming down the stretch.
South Carolina (37.3) shot under 40 percent from the floor for the 10th time in 11 games. Wednesday’s game with the Bulldogs is an 8:30 p.m. tip-off on the SEC Network.