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Vols slam Gamecocks' upset hopes

USC's Austin Steed pulls down a rebound next to Tennessee's Melvin Goins during the second half of play.
USC's Austin Steed pulls down a rebound next to Tennessee's Melvin Goins during the second half of play.

Devan Downey's postgame session with reporters lasted four questions. After the last one, the star guard looked around for more, reporters shrugged back at him, and Downey walked away.

At this point, there was nothing left to say.

Another loss to Tennessee. And another loss in a season that has quickly gotten away from South Carolina.

Leading with less than 10 minutes to play in the second half, the Gamecocks sputtered down the stretch as the 20th-ranked Volunteers pulled away for a 63-55 win at the Colonial Life Arena.

South Carolina, which three games ago harbored NCAA tournament hopes, is 14-12 overall, 5-7 in the SEC.

"We're gonna keep playing, I can tell you that," USC coach Darrin Horn said. "If anything I think we need to move forward in a way that we understand we're building a program, regardless of how games turn out. And that's going to be the case whether it's five years from now or if we were undefeated right now."

It was USC's third consecutive loss, and its star player, Downey, saw his production continue to slip. But Horn bristled at the notion that his injury-depleted team was wearing down.

"Fatigue is an excuse for people who like to put blame on things," Horn said. "I don't know how you could be fatigued as a college player, in this environment, when we're playing 3-2 zone defense the whole game."

For awhile, this did not resemble the 26-point loss USC sustained at Tennessee two weeks before. USC led by as much as six on Saturday and there were 13 lead changes.

But Tennessee pulled away late, getting its dunks, layups and free throws, while the Gamecocks kept missing beyond the arc. The Gamecocks had one field goal in an eight-minute stretch near the end of the game.

"Shots just weren't falling," Downey said. "But we're gonna go out and fight. This team is gonna go out and fight. That's not something we're gonna quit doing, is go out and fight."

The Gamecocks led by three with 9:18 left. Then it turned in a key sequence after Tennessee scored the next two baskets.

Tennessee's inbounds pressure forced a turnover. Wayne Chism intercepted a pass at midcourt and was fouled in the process by USC center Sam Muldrow, his fourth foul.

Chism hit both free throws, then J.P. Prince stole the inbounds, was fouled and hit two more free throws.

That gave Tennessee a five-point lead, its biggest of the game.

Downey answered with a 3, but the Gamecocks could not capitalize on their next possessions and Tennessee was soon ahead by five again. Then USC allowed J.P. Prince to steal a midcourt pass, and Prince went downcourt to make it 56-49 with five minutes left.

Over the next few minutes Downey, Ramon Galloway and Brandis Raley-Ross missed 3s, and Muldrow committed two turnovers as Tennessee increased the lead to 12.

When the season started, USC had hopes for an NCAA tournament spot. Then Dominique Archie and Mike Holmes went out, and those hopes were buried.

They were re-ignited after last month's upset of No. 1 Kentucky. But the Gamecocks are 2-4 since, and almost certainly would have to win the SEC tournament to avoid the NIT.

"We've just gotta keep chipping away," Raley-Ross said. "We know we have another great opportunity. We're not looking down the road to the conference tournament, but we've got four more games left, we're gonna battle them, we're gonna play them just the way we played the Kentucky game, just like we played the first SEC game."

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