ATLANTA -- When a missed shot is the typifying image from a basketball season, it probably was a season to forget.

That moment in that season came late in the second half Thursday afternoon inside the library-quiet Georgia Dome, with South Carolina's SEC tournament first-round game against Mississippi gradually slipping away.

In the midst of a 7-minute, 31-second field goal drought, the Gamecocks put together an excellent halfcourt possession against the Rebels' zone. They moved the ball around and eventually found freshman post Damontre Harris, who sealed off his man and had a direct, unimpeded avenue to the goal.

Instead of the sure-handed dunk, the 6-9 Harris sort of flipped the ball at the basket. It rolled around and off the rim, and the Rebels' Zach Graham corralled the ball.

Promising start, embarrassing finish. It's the 2010-11 Gamecocks' epitaph.

Harris' miss came during a 12-1 Mississippi scoring run that, in a 66-55 Rebels victory, did in USC's slip-sliding season.

The Gamecocks started 3-1 in conference play, leading for a week a division that might well place five of its six teams in the NCAA tournament.

The other team in the East, the Gamecocks, dropped 11 of their

final 13 games to end the year 14-16 and miss any type of postseason for the second consecutive season. Horn is now 0-4 in the postseason at USC, including three SEC tourney losses and a first-round bowout in the NIT in his first year.

South Carolina hasn't won an SEC tournament game since Dave Odom's last stand, in the 2007-08 season.

The bottom line: A team that was expected to take some lumps this season took a whole bunch of them.

"We knew coming into the year it was going to be a hard year," Horn said. "It was really like year one, with basically a brand-new roster and so many young guys. ... So we knew it was going to be a challenge coaching this group because of that."

A team that was already laboring to find an identity was really hurt, Horn said, when sophomore wing Lakeem Jackson suffered a foot injury that really never healed. Horn said Jackson's issue caused practices to go awry. He said there was regression in that stretch, even though one of the three games Jackson missed entirely was the home win against Ole Miss.

The Gamecocks were further hampered when freshman point guard Bruce Ellington suffered a calf injury in mid-February. The Berkeley product's defense and jump shot went south thereafter. He was 2 of 9 on Thursday, including 2 of 7 from 3-point range, and finished with seven points.

Consistent during the team's toughest times was inconsistency. It would fall behind big, home and away, and scratch to get back into games. Thursday's neutral-court experience here was no different.

After scoring the first five points against the Rebels, South Carolina went 6:20 until it scored again, allowing Mississippi (20-12) to race to a 20-8 lead.

"It's hard to get a rhythm when the shots aren't falling," said USC forward Malik Cooke, 2 of 12 from the field in the game. "We had to keep playing through it and try to find a way."

The lead hit 14 before the Gamecocks began to chip away. The Rebels' cushion was just 30-26 at the half, thanks to USC and senior Sam Muldrow picking up their aggressiveness against the Ole Miss zone.

But the Gamecocks didn't hit a field goal for the first four minutes of the second half. Paired with the later, longer shooting drought, USC went more than half the second half without a made basket.

South Carolina shot 29.9 percent from the field and hit 8 of 30 3-pointers. Mississippi, meanwhile, made 41.1 percent of its shots and attempted 11 fewer 3-pointers.

Ramon Galloway, on 6-of-16 shooting, led the Gamecocks with 17 points. Muldrow closed out his career with 12 points (5 of 13 from the floor), nine rebounds and seven blocks.

"I'm just disappointed for Sam," Horn said. "He was tremendous to coach, obviously had a good career and showed up every day and worked hard and had a great attitude. You would like to see it go a little bit better for him."

Or any of the Gamecocks, who were visibly hurting in the postgame locker room.

"It was pretty tough," said Ellington, who was named this week to the league's all-freshman team. "We had a downfall in the end. We've just got to learn from that for next year and just learn what we did."