COLUMBIA -- Intangible things such as confidence and general esprit de corps aren't an issue right now in South Carolina's basketball locker room. Or at least not nearly as much of an issue as doing the things required to actually win a basketball game.
USC is 0-4 in the Southeastern Conference for the first time since 2006-07 as it prepares for tonight's home game against Alabama. It hasn't started 0-5 in the league since 1998-99, when it started 0-6.
South Carolina had a legitimate chance to win Saturday at Auburn, the worst SEC team they have played so far. But the Gamecocks turned the ball over 23 times, their second-most of the season, and just seven of those came on Auburn steals. Translation: too many unforced errors. And that many turnovers, forced or unforced, "makes it almost impossible to win," said USC coach Darrin Horn.
"We've got to get better at basketball," Horn said when asked about building morale. "We can stand around and hold hands and sing 'Kumbaya' and do all kinds of stuff. If we take care of the basketball the other day, there's a good chance we win the game."
The Gamecocks lost 63-52 after leading by four points at halftime. They had 10 turnovers in the first half and eight more in the first 11:59 of the second half, when Auburn put the game away by outscoring USC, 26-8. Auburn led by at least nine for the rest of the game after that.
It was the third straight game in which USC sputtered after halftime and gave itself essentially zero chance to win down the stretch. Vanderbilt outscored USC, 10-3, in the first 1:58 of the second half and led by at least 10 for the rest of the game. Florida outscored the Gamecocks, 19-3, in the first 9:34 and also led by at least 10 the rest of the way.
The toughest part of the Auburn loss for Horn was that he had been pleased with his team's ballhandling lately. The Gamecocks committed just 12, nine and 12 turnovers against Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Florida, three of the SEC's best teams. Point guard Bruce Ellington had just one turnover combined in those three games. He had five at Auburn.
Moreover, Horn said the Gamecocks committed seven turnovers in transition during the first half. Two came on rebounds when a USC player wasn't strong enough with the ball and had it knocked away. Two more happened by stepping out of bounds. Another was a fluky play on which Ellington just lost the ball out of bounds, something Horn said "may not happen again the rest of the year."
"We had eliminated those transition turnovers for the most part," he said. "And to do that and do it in situations where it really, really hurt you, absolutely it's frustrating. I'd be lying to say that it wasn't, because again, we've got a lot of other areas that we did really well. You turn the ball over 23 times in a game, you've got to do some other stuff like amazingly well to win the game."
The rest of the season provides few should-win games for the Gamecocks. They still must play Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Florida again, the latter two on the road. Alabama has lost three straight games, but fell by just six points Saturday at Kentucky, now ranked No. 1 in the nation again. Tennessee, Georgia and USC sit at the bottom of the SEC standings, but the Volunteers beat Florida (now No. 14) by 11 and No. 13 Connecticut by three on Saturday.
"A win (tonight) would be huge," Horn said. "Do we need one? Absolutely, we need one at some point, because our guys, to their credit, have continued to come back and have a good attitude and work really hard and come out and start games well. We've got to put the whole together. There's not going to be any nights off."