COLUMBIA -- A group of players as young as this year's South Carolina men's basketball team ought to melt during road games.
And while the Gamecocks -- with two freshmen and two sophomores starting, and one senior, period -- aren't exactly a dominant road team, they haven't appeared totally incapable of handling an unfriendly setting.
The Gamecocks head back on the road tonight, at Tennessee, as they try to prevent their season from becoming a complete train wreck. They went 1-7 during the first half of their Southeastern Conference schedule -- their worst start since 2002-03, when they began 1-7. After tonight, they travel to Arkansas on Saturday, completing a five-game stretch that includes four road trips.
Though they are 0-4 in SEC road games this year, they played well for stretches in every game.
At Kentucky, they doomed themselves by scoring 18 points in the first half, but outscored the Wildcats, 46-45, in the second to lose by 15. At Auburn, they led by four points at halftime, but sputtered to start the second half and lost by 11. At Mississippi, they trailed by one with 48 seconds left and lost by four. And at Florida, they trailed by 17 midway through the first half, cut the lead to five with 2:51 remaining and lost by eight.
"I think that shows that this team has some resiliency and is focused on being about the right things and just firmly believes. If you keep doing that, good things are going to happen and it's going to turn for you," said fourth-year USC coach Darrin Horn.
But the reality remains: Horn is 7-21 in SEC road games, with four of those wins coming over teams that finished with losing league records.
This year's schedule gives the Gamecocks a chance to finish stronger than they did the past two years, when they closed 2-8 and 2-11 and went 6-10 and 5-11 in SEC play.
Four of USC's first eight SEC games this season were against the league's best teams, Kentucky and Florida. USC also played Mississippi, one of four teams who entered Tuesday above .500 in the SEC. Other than USC, four SEC teams who entered Tuesday with losing league records. USC plays two of them twice (Tennessee and Georgia) and one of them once (LSU) in its final eight regular season games.
The Gamecocks' difficult first half of league play was punctuated with Saturday's 86-52 home loss to top-ranked Kentucky. Horn didn't bother analyzing video of the blowout with his players as he usually does after games.
"Reviewing that game is not going to help us get ready for our next one," he said. "We came in (Monday) and just got refocused on us and what we need to do better to have a chance to win at Tennessee."
The Gamecocks must reverse their road fortunes this week if they want to avoid starting 1-9 in the SEC for the first time since 1999-2000.
Two more losses would also make it difficult for the Gamecocks, 9-13 overall, to avoid having a losing overall record for the third straight season. That hasn't happened since they endured four straight losing seasons from 1991-92 to 1994-95.
One of their freshman starters, power forward Anthony Gill, at least gives off the attitude that he and his teammates won't back down from their upcoming road challenges.
"We want to get out there and show everybody what Gamecock basketball is really about," he said. "We're a team full of fighters, and we're just going to keep fighting until the end, even though it didn't show on Saturday. We know we didn't play as well as we should've, but we're coming back and we're going to do what we need to do."