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Gamecocks facing nation's worst

Hopefully some home cooking and presents – along with play time in the snow – will help the Gamecocks shake off last week’s loss at Furman.

The Gamecocks (7-3) are scheduled to return to practice today after the Christmas break to get ready to finish its non-conference schedule. South Carolina will look to boost its RPI after taking a small hit in losing to the Paladins. USC now ranks 83rd, according to realtimerpi.com.

In its three remaining non-conference games, South Carolina faces two of the nation’s worst teams and a stronger-than-expected ACC foe. All the games are at Colonial Life Arena.

Wednesday’s opponent, Jacksonville State, has the nation’s worst RPI. The Gamecocks from Alabama (2-11) have lost seven straight, including an overtime defeat to Presbyterian. Jacksonville State is scoring near-national worst 59.7 points a game. This is should be the kind of game where USC head coach Darrin Horn can get some quality minutes from his bench.

Boston College’s New Year’s Day celebration in Columbia will be a key test – providing a glimpse into how the Gamecocks will handle SEC play. The Eagles (10-2) are on a seven-game winning streak with victories stretching across the nation against California, Indiana and Massachusetts. Boston College beat reigning ACC champ Maryland in College Park.

South Carolina is 1-2 against major-conference opponents this year and could use a win over Boston College -- and its top 20 RPI ranking -- to balance out the loss to Furman.

S.C. State – USC’s final non-conference opponent -- is 4-8, but all of its wins are against non-Division I schools that don’t count toward the RPI. The Bulldogs -- which has lost to Furman, the Citadel and Clemson -- have the nation’s fourth-worst RPI. This again should be a game to use the bench that will be crucial for conference play.

Having 10 wins – and a three-game winning steak – heading into SEC play should lift the Gamecocks after two straight defeats. But a lopsided loss to Boston College would suggest harsher struggles ahead in the conference.

Meanwhile, here are other notes from Furman’s first win against South Carolina in 30 years:

USC guard Brian Richardson’s 15 points was a career high.

Furman’s 91 points was the most scored against South Carolina this season.

The Gamecocks’ 26 rebounds was a season low.

Furman’s 52.6 percent shooting was the second-highest versus USC this season. Only Michigan State’s 54.7 percent was higher. The Paladins’ 46.7 percent shooting from the 3-point arc was a season-high against the Gamecocks.