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USC fate may rest on ability to win on road

Darrin horn gives instruction from the sidelines.
Darrin horn gives instruction from the sidelines.

Since he arrived at South Carolina, coach Darrin Horn has helped turn his team's home court into an advantage, with a rambunctious student section and near-sellout crowds propelling the team to big wins.

Starting today, however, the key to the rest of this season might be how his team fares on the road. And that's been a different story.

The Gamecocks have one road win this season, and that was more than a month ago at Auburn, one of the SEC's worst teams. Four of USC's seven remaining regular-season games will be on the road, including two in the next week: today at Georgia and Wednesday at Arkansas.

Wednesday's victory against Florida re-ignited USC's NCAA tournament hopes. But in order to keep them alive, the Gamecocks need to win one of their next two games, and perhaps both. They also have games remaining at Kentucky and Vanderbilt, perhaps the SEC's top two teams.

"We really need to finish strong, but definitely on the road, because we've struggled on the road," senior guard Devan Downey said.

The Gamecocks have lost at Wofford and Boston College - teams barely ranked in the top 100 of the RPI - as well as Clemson, Mississippi, Florida and Tennessee. And with the exception of the Florida contest, none of those games was close.

USC went 2-1 at the Charleston Classic, losing the final to Miami, but those crowds were mostly pro-Gamecock and do not count as true road games.

Last season the Gamecocks went 4-6 on the road, including 3-5 in the SEC. One of the losses was at College of Charleston. The biggest wins were at Kentucky and Baylor, both on last-second shots. The other two victories were at Georgia and Alabama.

Still, Horn said he doesn't detect his team is uncomfortable on the road.

"I think consistency may be a better way of saying it," Horn said. "There have been times on the road, like at Florida, we've been pretty good, just not good enough."

He cited the second half at Mississippi, when Horn felt his team controlled the game. But the first half sunk the Gamecocks, much like it did at Boston College.

The Gamecocks are so dependent on energy, which aids their up-tempo style, that the home-court atmosphere helps.

"At home, even if you don't have it (energy), there's a point where you hope the crowd will give it to you," Horn said. "I think on the road you've got to create your own, and you've got to create a mind-set where it's us against everybody else.

"(You have to) create that energy with how you play and how you interact with the team and how much the bench is into it, and bring your own emotion and energy, and that's going to be important for us (at Georgia.)"

As the team leader and point guard, Downey put it on himself to energize his team.

"I think that's what helps (Brandis) Raley-Ross and Sam (Muldrow) and some of those guys at home, is a big emphasis was just to be aggressive," Downey said. "We need those guys to be aggressive. And if they can be aggressive on the road, they're talented enough, we're going to be fine."

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