David Cloninger

Cloninger: Gamecocks finally avoid dying by the 3

P.J. Dozier had a highlight-reel dunk as South Carolina got a season-highlight win.
P.J. Dozier had a highlight-reel dunk as South Carolina got a season-highlight win. AP

South Carolina can live by the 3 instead of dying by it.

Because of it, the Gamecocks’ NCAA tournament hopes are very, very alive.

I was already writing it up, going back and forth from my TV to my office so often I wore out the hardwood. How many 3s had USC given up in SEC play? (94, after Saturday) What was their high for makes this year? (12, now) While some of Texas A&M’s 3-pointers were well-defended and others off long offensive rebounds, most were of the same variety that USC has given up all season – guard beat off the dribble, somebody leaves their man to come help, guy that helper was guarding is left wide-open for an outlet pass and an open 3.

It was going to get them beat, and in another situation where they could have had a huge win. Seen that far too many times.

Yet, USC was matching the Aggies shot for shot. The 3, a strength in the non-conference and a desperation in SEC play, returned as the Gamecocks hit 12, Michael Carrera loading up in that mechanical, slow motion that somehow finds the bottom of nylon. As usual, USC couldn’t stand prosperity and nearly threw it away (should-have-been Gamecock Danuel House bricked a 3 and USC presented a tying opportunity to the Aggies after screwing up an inbound pass).

But as it has been so often this season, the Gamecocks found a way to handle it and came out ahead. Sindarius Thornwell, marvelous all game, spied Alex Caruso’s low pass off a leg and grabbed it, and that was it.

They somehow do it. They somehow equal an ugly loss with an outstanding win (win at Ole Miss, lose at Tennessee; lose at Georgia, win at A&M). I’m sure the national boys will talk strength of schedule and such after the next loss and that’s all well and good – at this point, seeds and matchups don’t matter as much as overall wins.

Three more wins. They’re that close. While the next two games aren’t definite wins, they’re at home and they’re not against unbeatable teams. They needed that one at Georgia because it looked to be the easiest, but didn’t get it. So they instead got one at what looked to be the hardest.

Three more wins.

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If past history is any indication, South Carolina’s 20th win of the season on Saturday clinched a postseason trip. A look at the others:

Season Record Postseason

1968-69 21-7 NIT

1969-70 25-3 None

1970-71 23-6 NCAA

1971-72 24-5 NCAA

1972-73 22-7 NCAA

1973-74 22-5 NCAA

1982-83 22-9 NIT

1990-91 20-13 NIT

1996-97 24-8 NCAA

1997-98 23-8 NCAA

2001-02 22-15 NIT

2003-04 23-11 NCAA

2004-05 20-13 NIT

2005-06 23-15 NIT

2008-09 21-10 NIT

2015-16 (so far) 20-3 ???