Shooting woes lead to another USC loss
COLUMBIA -- Wednesday night's meeting with Mississippi State will be the final South Carolina men's home game of the season. Will it also be the final home game for fourth-year coach Darrin Horn?
That is a question many USC fans want answered immediately, but athletic director Eric Hyman has consistently said he won't meet with Horn and discuss the state of his program until after the season, as Hyman does with all of his coaches.
For now, the Gamecocks and their followers can only absorb the disappointment of yet another loss -- 73-64 Saturday night to Tennessee. USC is now 10-18, 2-12 in the Southeastern Conference, and with two regular season games remaining, the Gamecocks have no shot of equaling last year's 5-11 SEC record.
The loss also assured that USC will at least finish tied for the SEC's worst conference record. USC last had the league's worst record in 2006-07, when it went 4-12. The Gamecocks joined the SEC in 1991-92 and have never finished worse than 3-13. They last won two league games in 1985-86, when they went 2-10 in the Metro Conference.
In the big picture of a miserable season, the particulars of Saturday matter little. It was, in short, a typical loss for this team -- not a blowout by any means, but not much of a game in the second half, either, largely because of a poor stretch.
Say this much for Horn's players: They continue to fight. They trailed by 11 with 7:07 left in the first half, but trimmed the deficit to 34-32 at halftime. Then Tennessee went on a 10-2 run over the first 4:41 of the second half. USC never got closer than seven points after that.
The difference in the teams' shooting percentages was remarkable. Tennessee shot 52.2 percent -- 10 percent better than its average in SEC games entering Saturday. USC shot 32.4 percent, tying its third-worst shooting performance of the season.
Even for a USC team that entered Saturday ranked 10th in the 12-team SEC in field goal percentage and 11th in field goal percentage defense, Saturday's second half shooting numbers were jarring - 55.6 for Tennessee, 30.6 for USC.
All told, USC shot 22 of 68 and missed the same number of shots as Tennessee attempted. Losing a game when his team got that many more chances - including far too many missed opportunities from close range - was particularly irritating for Horn, who went 1-6 in February two years ago, 2-6 last year and is 1-7 this February.
Horn was asked why his players have missed so many layups this season.
"If we had that one answered, we wouldn't be missing so many," he said. "They've got finish shots. It's really that simple."
Senior forward Malik Cooke gave the same answer when asked two different questions, about the Gamecocks once again missing layups and failing to get stops when they needed them.
"That's just on the players," he said.