COLUMBIA — South Carolina has seven games remaining, and it will win exactly zero of them if it performs as brutally on offense as it did Thursday.
The Gamecocks lost 64-46 to LSU, their fifth consecutive defeat. They took 32 shots in both halves. They made nine in both halves. They scored 22 points in the second period. To begin the period, they made just four of their first 20 shots.
In that same time, LSU made 11 of 18, after hitting 11 of 31 in the first half. Following that surge and USC’s lull to begin the second half, the Tigers led 52-35 with 8:20 remaining, and their two-point halftime lead was suddenly a blowout.
All that remained was the formality of seeing if LSU forward Johnny O’Bryant reached 30 points for the first time in his career. He hit the number on the nose, and shot 13 of 19.
USC (12-12, 2-9 Southeastern Conference) had been above .500 all season until Thursday. The Gamecocks now must close 4-3 to avoid their fourth straight losing regular season. They have no chance of doing it if they continue the habits that are infuriating first-year coach Frank Martin.
Perhaps hoping to deliver a jolt, he opened his press conference Thursday by shredding his team.
“If you take (point guard) Bruce Ellington off our team, you’d probably have the 12 leading candidates for the starring roles in ‘The Return of the Living Dead,’ the zombie movie,” he said. “If you took Bruce off our team, our guys would probably win an Academy (Award) for their performance in that movie.
“I’ve been doing this for 28 years, nine of which as a junior varsity high school coach. That means I’ve dealt with 14-year-olds. I’ve never been more embarrassed to call myself a basketball coach than I am today.”
USC played solid defense in the first half Thursday, as LSU shot 35.5. Then the Tigers shot 53.6 in the second half and finished at 44.1. In USC’s previous four losses, its opponents shot 52.8, 58.1, 61.4 and 43.9. The Gamecocks’ shooting percentages in its five-game losing streak: 31.1, 35.8, 28.8, 39.2 and 28.1 on Thursday, their second lowest of the season.
“I thought we shot good shots,” Martin said. “We lead the country in air-ball layups. If guys can’t make layups, it’s hard to win. You’ve got to invest yourself to be good. In life, you get what you deserve. If you don’t put in the time, that ball ain’t going to go in the basket. We’ve got guys that don’t comprehend that. They put in the time when I make them put in the time. They don’t put in the time for the love of the game. Until that doesn’t change, it ain’t going to get any better.”
It’s a bad sign for the Gamecocks that Martin questioned their effort Thursday and wondered aloud just how they could turn things around in time for Saturday’s game at Alabama.
“Ever since the Florida game (to start the losing streak), we’ve been fighting a losing battle, because the desire to play is not there,” Martin said. “I’ve always taken pride to get guys to do what I ask them to do, and right now, that’s not happening. If this was the NBA, we’d fine them, we’d take their money, we’d release them and say, ‘Good luck with ever finding another job.’ I shouldn’t coach basketball ever again if this is how my team plays.”