NASHVILLE, Tenn. — All hope for the NCAA Tournament is gone as Auburn punched South Carolina out of the SEC Tournament on Friday, 73-64.
The Gamecocks still hope they can play in the NIT and gain one final run for seniors Chris Silva, Tre Campbell and Hassani Gravett, but they have a long couple of days to wait until the field is announced.
“If they call, I would love the opportunity to run another ball practice,” USC coach Frank Martin said.
USC is in a perilous predicament as the NIT has only once taken a team with a .500 record in the last dozen years, and the Gamecocks are 16-16. With the NCAA Tournament bubble continuing to shrink by the hour, thus forcing an overflow of candidates off it and into the NIT picture, it’s not great to be a .500 team waiting on a call.
But that’s where the Gamecocks are. They deserve an ovation for playing as strongly as they did, finishing fourth in the SEC when they were basically down to a seven-man team at the end.
Yet USC will not make the NCAA Tournament for a second straight season following the program’s greatest triumph in the 2017 Final Four, and may mimic last year in missing the postseason altogether.
“Teams one-two-three in our league are national championship-good. Auburn’s Final Four-good,” Martin said. “We’re the fourth-place team in this league. Mean to tell me there’s that big of a differential between our team and those guys that are national championship-good?”
* If it was Silva’s last game, he left everything he had on the floor. The senior center scored 27 points on 9-of-12 shooting and hauled in 11 rebounds.
“I owe coach Martin everything,” Silva said. “Coming in as a kid, teaching me to be a man.”
* Felipe Haase scored 12 points and hit a couple of clutch buckets when Auburn was about to turn the game into a rout. He at least kept USC in position to make a run.
* It’s what Auburn does. They set an SEC record for made 3-pointers this year.
The Tigers smoked 13 (in 34 tries) as the Gamecocks never caught up to their speed and extra passes.
* While the 3s were at least understandable, USC turned the ball over 18 times. Ten of them were steals.
* Jared Harper was the smallest man on the floor and ended with 27 points and six defensive rebounds. The Gamecocks had nobody with that kind of commitment to always get to the ball.
Maik Kotsar said he didn’t think he had a very good year. He vowed to work on it during the offseason as, if the year is over, he’ll be a senior next season.
Kotsar broke his free-throw jinx by acing his only two attempts but otherwise had four fouls and two rebounds. The man who scored 25 points in a win over Mississippi State has been a shell of himself since.
The Gamecocks await a potential NIT bid at 8:30 p.m. Sunday.