South Carolinas long season cant catch a break.
The back of the Gamecocks SEC schedule was supposed to be the easier half. Instead, USC moved closer to making team history with two SEC wins after losing 73-64 to Tennessee on Saturday.
No USC team has ever failed to win at least three leagues games since joining the SEC in 1991-92. With two regular-season games remaining, Saturdays loss assures South Carolina (10-18, 2-12) a tie for the worst regular-season record in the SEC this year. The Gamecocks last finished at the bottom of the conference in 2007, going 4-12 that season.
The coach and players said they are trying to remain positive and get better with an eye toward winning the two remaining games before the SEC tournament in New Orleans.
But chatter continues to center on coach Darrin Horns future.
Through the season, USCs athletics director and school president have voiced support for the fourth-year coach, who appears headed for his third-straight losing campaign. Horns record at USC fell to 60-60 after Saturdays defeat, a game the Gamecocks never led.
South Carolina could not convert on Tennessees mistakes and had one of its poorest shooting nights of the season.
The Gamecocks scored 23 points on 21 Tennessee turnovers, the teams second most this season. But the visitors had about the same number of points, 19, from 10 USC turnovers with an efficient fast break that broke the Gamecocks.
USCs offense again struggled. The Gamecocks hit 32.4 percent of their baskets the fifth game in the past seven where USC failed to reach 40 percent.
The team made less than one-third of its two-point shots for a second straight game. Bruce Ellington led the Gamecocks with 19 points, but the sophomore point guard shot 6-for-20 from the field and 2-for-9 from 3-point range.
As his team was missing from close range, Horn said he told the team to keep attacking and make a layup.
We got 22 more shots than they did, he said. We have to do a better job of finishing the ones we get.
While the defense was decent, Tennessee (16-13, 8-6) scored on more than half its shots the 11th SEC team to reach at least 40 percent this year against South Carolina. Forward Malik Cooke, who finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds, blamed the inability to getting stops on miscommunication.
At halftime, the Gamecocks provided some life. USC closed an 11-point deficit to a field goal at the break, even though Damontre Harris and forward Anthony Gill spent long stretches on the bench with foul trouble.
But South Carolina started the second half poorly. The Gamecocks hit one of their first nine shots as Tennessee extended the lead back to double digits.
We never really got over the hump with that, Horn said of the Volunteers 10-2 early second-half run. Every time we seemed like we were chipping away and getting close, they hit a timely shot or got something at the end of the (fast) break.
Horn said USC was hurt by Harriss struggles. The teams dominant post player, Harris never got going after his early foul trouble and fouled out with no points and one rebound in 11 minutes.
South Carolina has not beaten Tennessee since 2007 and has dropped 11 straight to the Volunteers all of them while Horn has been coach.
Were just trying to stay as positive as possible and look at the upside of every game, Cooke said.
Stokes 3-8 1-4 7, Maymon 6-10 2-3 14, Golden 5-9 8-9 21, McBee 2-5 2-2 8, Tatum 2-3 0-1 5, Richardson 0-1 0-0 0, Lopez 0-0 0-0 0, Miller 1-3 0-0 2, McRae 5-7 5-6 16. Totals 24-46 18-25 73.
SOUTH CAROLINA (10-18)
Gill 4-11 1-4 9, Cooke 6-16 4-4 17, Harris 0-1 0-0 0, Ellington 6-20 5-6 19, Leonard 1-5 0-0 2, Williams 3-6 2-2 11, Richardson 0-2 0-0 0, Smith 1-1 0-0 2, Jackson 0-1 0-0 0, Slawson 1-4 1-1 3, Geathers 0-1 1-2 1. Totals 22-68 14-19 64.
Halftime: Tennessee 34-32. 3-Point Goals: Tennessee 7-14 (Golden 3-4, McBee 2-5, Tatum 1-2, McRae 1-3), South Carolina 6-19 (Williams 3-4, Ellington 2-9, Cooke 1-2, Slawson 0-1, Richardson 0-1, Leonard 0-2). Fouled Out: Harris. Rebounds: Tennessee 38 (Tatum 9), South Carolina 32 (Cooke 10). Assists: Tennessee 15 (Tatum 6), South Carolina 5 (Ellington 4). Total Fouls: Tennessee 20, South Carolina 23. Attendance: 7,959.