ATLANTA – The South Carolina men’s basketball team’s season ended Thursday at the SEC tournament with the poor shooting that has plagued the Gamecocks in recent weeks.
USC shot 30 percent in losing its first-round game to Mississippi 66-55 — the eighth consecutive contest in which the Gamecocks shot 40 percent or less.
“They made their shots when they needed it, and we didn’t,” said coach Darrin Horn, who has yet to win a game in the SEC tournament in three seasons at South Carolina.
The loss ends the season for the Gamecocks (14-16). Horn has said he would not accept a bid to a third-tier postseason tournament — the College Basketball Invitational or CollegeInsider.com Tournament. This is USC’s second consecutive losing season and second straight without a postseason bid. The Gamecocks played in the NIT in Horn’s first season with a veteran squad. This year’s team featured eight underclassmen on its 11-man roster.
As it has in several games recently, USC fell behind in the first half against Ole Miss. The Gamecocks, the No. 6 seed from the East Division, trailed by 12 midway through the half.
But USC ratcheted its defensive pressure, forcing Ole Miss into turnovers and limiting its second-chance opportunities. USC finally started making shots, including a mid-range jumper from Lakeem Jackson, and went on a 13-0 run by taking control of offensive rebounding. The Gamecocks cut the lead to two a minute before halftime.
Ole Miss (20-12), the No. 3 seed from the West, started the second half with an 11-1 run sparked by two 3-pointers from All-SEC guard Chris Warren. The Gamecocks held Warren, who scored a career-high 33 points in a loss to USC two weeks ago, to seven points in the first half. But the senior scored 13 points in the second half as the Rebels began to pick away at USC’s zone and the Gamecocks continued to misfire.
The Gamecocks got within five points with nine minutes to go with defensive stops — including a block by SEC defensive player of the year Sam Muldrow — strong rebounding and a traveling call on the Rebels.
But USC failed to score on five consecutive possessions: a missed dunk by Muldrow off a missed 3-pointer by Eric Smith, a missed jumper by Bruce Ellington, a missed layup by Damontre Harris and a turnover off a bad pass.
“It’s hard to really get a rhythm when the shots aren’t falling,” said forward Malik Cooke, who scored four points on 2-for-12 shooting.
Ole Miss took advantage, beating USC’s press for easy baskets. The Gamecocks scored one point during a six-minute stretch as the Rebels extended their lead to 16 with four minutes remaining.
“We didn’t make plays, (and) they got loose balls that we didn’t get,” said Galloway, who scored a team-high 17 points. “They wanted it more.”
His team needs to find consistency, especially in regard to shooting, and not fall behind early, Horn said. “When you’re as young as we are, it’s just something that just seems like we never could get over the hump. That’s something that will get better with maturity and time, but it’s frustrating right now.”
Muldrow, a Florence native playing in his final game, scored 12 points, grabbed nine rebounds and blocked seven shots.
“It was kind of frustrating,” Muldrow said. “We dug ourselves a hole in the first half, and it’s hard to get out of a hole, trying to fight back.”
SOUTH CAROLINA (14-16) | Cooke 2-12 0-0 4, Harris 2-5 1-2 5, Jackson 2-5 1-2 5, Muldrow 5-13 2-2 12, Ellington 2-9 1-2 7, Richardson 0-0 0-0 0, Smith 1-5 2-4 5, Galloway 6-16 0-0 17, Jefferson 0-1 0-0 0, Slawson 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 20-67 7-12 55.
MISSISSIPPI (20-12) | Henry 5-10 4-6 14, Buckner 5-10 0-1 10, Nelson 3-10 1-2 10, Warren 7-16 3-4 20, Graham 2-8 4-4 8, Short 1-1 0-0 2, N. Williams 0-1 2-2 2, Gaskins 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-56 14-19 66.
Halftime: Mississippi 30-26. 3-Point Goals: South Carolina 8-30 (Galloway 5-12, Ellington 2-7, Smith 1-4, Cooke 0-3, Muldrow 0-4), Mississippi 6-19 (Nelson 3-6, Warren 3-7, Henry 0-1, N. Williams 0-1, Buckner 0-1, Graham 0-3). Fouled Out: None. Rebounds: South Carolina 43 (Muldrow 9), Mississippi 43 (Henry 11). Assists_South Carolina 15 (Ellington, Jackson 4), Mississippi 10 (Nelson, Warren 4). Total Fouls: South Carolina 18, Mississippi 9.