COLUMBIA — South Carolina had 1.8 seconds left and a play coach Frank Martin was sure would produce a good shot.
The Gamecocks departed their huddle for the final time against Ole Miss, needing just one bucket to win. Martin drew up a play that would feature a couple screens, hoping to get a shot at the rim. Instead, nobody got open, and freshman guard Sindarius Thornwell was forced to catch a pass approaching half court, with his momentum carrying him away from the basket.
Thornwell never had a chance, air balling his desperation heave to seal a heartbreaking, 75-74 loss to the Rebels before a crowd of 14,303 at Colonial Life Arena on Saturday.
“He saw denial (from the defender), and he ran to the half-court line,” Martin said. “Unfortunately, young kids, when they see pressure they always run away from the basket. I’ve got no idea (why). … Whenever there’s pressure, you don’t run to the other basket. You cut to your basket. That’s part of their growth.”
As Martin broke down the X’s and O’s, he highlighted the overriding issue that has led the Gamecocks to a winless SEC start. Facing another winnable game Saturday, South Carolina stumbled over its youth. The Gamecocks (7-10, 0-4 SEC) also showed they have plenty room to grow.
South Carolina controlled much of the first half, jumping out to a 37-27 lead at intermission. It took Ole Miss (11-5, 3-1 SEC) less than five minutes erase the deficit, taking a 42-41 edge with 15:17 left.
“They knew that they did not play well,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. “I thought that South Carolina out-toughed us, which is certainly an element that you’re going to get with a Frank Martin-coached team.
“It didn’t take us 10 minutes to climb back. It took us about three minutes to climb back, and then we looked and said, ‘Hey, this is a basketball game.’”
In a competitive game, South Carolina hasn’t shown the maturity and experience to make game-changing plays. Its leaders Saturday were once again freshman, as has been the case.
Thornwell had a game-high 24 points with 11 rebounds and four assists. Sophomore forward Lamionas Chatkevicius had 12 points, while Michael Carrera finished with eight points and six rebounds.
Ole Miss was led by reserve Anthony Perez. The always-entertaining, often-controversial Marshall Henderson had 19 points on 5-of-17 shooting and 3-of-12 from behind the 3-point arc.
South Carolina will be on the road at Georgia and Missouri next week.