Wednesday was supposed to be a night to send one of the great players in program history out on a good note at home.
It turned into the latest example of a lost season.
Devan Downey's night started by making the first basket in a big game-opening run. It ended with the South Carolina star walking off the court after a 79-70 loss to struggling Alabama, the sixth in a row for the Gamecocks.
"It's very disappointing. When I look back, my last time stepping in that arena was a loss," Downey said. "It's very disappointing."
South Carolina was facing an Alabama team without its best player.
USC jumped to an 11-0 lead. But Alabama, which never led until 5:44 left in the game, made it a runaway.
USC (14-15, 5-10 SEC) is almost assured the sixth seed out of the East Division in next week's SEC tournament. For the Gamecocks to finish fifth, Georgia would have to lose Saturday at LSU, and USC would have to win at No. 13 Vanderbilt.
Downey was asked what happened to his team, which beat No. 1 Kentucky and Florida a month ago.
"I really don't know," Downey said. "We've got two games guaranteed to try and find it, and make some noise in the SEC tournament. That's something as individuals and as a team we've just gotta find."
In the final six minutes, the Gamecocks struggled from the line and the field. They were dominated in rebounding, glaringly so during the final stretch.
"We kind of just played the scoreboard," Downey said.
Earlier in the week, Gamecocks coach Darrin Horn had ripped his team's effort in its loss last weekend at home against Mississippi State. After Wednesday's loss, Horn said he thought the effort and energy was good.
"No question the energy was there from the get-go. We just didn't make the free throws down the stretch that we needed to," Horn said.
The Gamecocks entered last in the SEC in free throw percentage. They were 8-for-17 Wednesday.
"The bigger challenge is moving forward," Horn said. "Not making free throws is acceptable. Losing is not, but if you give the kind of effort and work the way you want to, you just keep plugging."
Alabama, despite being without leading rebounder JaMychel Green, had a 49-26 advantage on the boards.
Downey, the SEC's leading scorer, had 23 points but struggled down the stretch. He missed the front end of a one-and-one with the score tied at 62 with 4:49 left. His runner with 57 seconds left, which would have made it a three-point game, rimmed out.
Downey became the program's all-time leader in steals. But defense was a problem in the second half for the Gamecocks, who forced five turnovers after forcing 13 in the first half.
The senior-laden starting lineup, which included Robert Wilder and Evka Baniulis, jumped to an 11-0 lead, with Wilder contributing a jumper. Downey, smiling widely as he ran downcourt, gave Wilder a hug as he and Baniulis were subbed out.
The lead grew to 16-4 after senior Brandis Raley-Ross sank a 3. But South Carolina got sloppy, and the lead dwindled to led 39-36 at halftime.
Alabama scored the first basket of the second half to make it 39-37. South Carolina powered back ahead, taking a seven-point lead on a Downey jumper. But Alabama tied it with about seven minutes left on a Tony Mitchell dunk, and took the lead for good on a Charvez Davis 3-pointer with 4:29 left.
"There's no excuses," said freshman guard Ramon Galloway, who scored 21 points. "You've gotta look at yourself in the mirror and go in the next day and know you've gotta push yourself harder, because you just lost, and you've just gotta push yourself to make yourself better."