Men’s pregame: Gamecocks try to end skid vs. Vols

dcloninger@thestate.comFebruary 7, 2014 

From Feb. 17, 2007: South Carolina's Tre Kelley deflects a foul by Tennessee's Ramar Smith at the arena known then as The Colonial Center.

FILE PHOTO — The State

  • SOUTH CAROLINA (8-14, 1-8 SEC) at TENNESSEE (14-8, 5-4)

    When: 3 p.m. Saturday

    Where: Thompson-Boling Arena, Knoxville, Tenn.

    TV: ESPNU

    South Carolina’s probable starters: G Duane Notice 6-2 Fr. (7.6 ppg, 2.5 rpg); G Sindarius Thornwell 6-5 Fr. (13.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg); G Brenton Williams 6-1 Sr. (14.0 ppg, 1.7 rpg); F Demetrius Henry 6-9 Fr. (5.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg); F Michael Carrera 6-5 So. (6.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg)

    Tennessee’s probable starters: G Darius Thompson 6-5 Fr. (3.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg); G Jordan McRae 6-6 Sr. (19.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg); G Josh Richardson 6-6 Jr. (9.2 ppg, 3.0 rpg); F Jeronne Maymon 6-8 Sr. (11.0 ppg, 8.2 rpg); F Jarnell Stokes 6-8 Jr. (13.8 ppg, 10.4 rpg)

    Next game: USC hosts Vanderbilt at 8 p.m. Wednesday.

The last time it happened, Devan Downey had yet to suit up for South Carolina, the building was still The Colonial Center and Darrin Horn was becoming a hot young coach at Western Kentucky.

On Feb. 17, 2007, Tre Kelley scored 25 points as the Gamecocks beat Tennessee 81-64. USC, in what would become its second-to-last year under coach Dave Odom, hammered a Volunteers squad bound for the Sweet 16 as star Chris Lofton managed a meager 13 points.

Kelley received some help from Dominique Archie (11 points) and Brandis Raley-Ross (12), and also nine points from Dwayne Day. A big boost came from Bryce Sheldon – Bryce Sheldon! – who stroked four 3-pointers on his way to 16 points.

The game ultimately didn’t do much for USC. The Gamecocks only won once the rest of the year as they finished a 14-16 (4-12 SEC) season. The next year, despite Downey playing for the first time after his transfer season and embarking on a first-team All-SEC three-year run, was Odom’s last. Bruce Pearl continued to build Tennessee into a juggernaut until he was fired in 2011 in the wake of an NCAA investigation. Since then, coach Cuonzo Martin has continued to win, although not as much as Pearl did.

But he, like his predecessor, has beaten USC. The third-year coach has gone 3-0 against the Gamecocks thus far, which added to the 9-0 run Pearl began after that game in 2007, makes 12 straight times the Gamecocks have lost to Tennessee.

They’ve lost close (89-87, 2008) and way off close (89-56, also 2008). They’ve lost to terrific individual performances (Wayne Chism scored 30 points in a 2010 win) and terrific duo performances (Tobias Harris and Scotty Hopson scored a combined 49 points in 2011). They’ve lost at home and they’ve really lost on the road – at Knoxville’s Thompson-Boling Arena, where Saturday’s game is, USC’s streak of futility stretches to 2002, Odom’s first year.

USC lost the chance to break one streak this week when a furious comeback petered out against Auburn. Now the Gamecocks have to try and get themselves up to break another one, at a place where they have historically not won, against a team that somehow just lost to Vanderbilt, which sports seven scholarship players.

The hope remains the same as always. USC has been right there, nearly every game, a possession away from taking a late-game lead. The Gamecocks have been a stop away from preserving a tie and give themselves another chance to get that possession.

“That’s happened more than once,” Brenton Williams said after the Auburn loss. “We have to find a way to find it from the beginning.”

Auburn took the game to USC’s big men, driving to the rim and using its bigger size to take control. Tennessee has the potential to do the same, starting five players where the smallest is 6-foot-5. The Gamecocks’ big men have to come to play Saturday, whether it be blocking shots, taking charges or especially defensive rebounding, all points that Frank Martin harped on after the Auburn loss.

“We still battled, and if we would have made free throws, we probably win,” Martin said. “It’s a mystery to me how somebody can drive the ball from the 26-foot mark in a two-foot zone and the center is nowhere to be found when the guy shoots a layup. But all we can do is continue to coach, teach, they’ll see that on film tomorrow and hopefully, our next opportunity on Saturday, we do a better job there.”

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