Providence 76, South Carolina 67

COLUMBIA -- They sailed long, fell short and rimmed out. They came on open looks, off-balance corner shots and easy runners. When you miss 46 shots, there are an awful lot of ways to do it, and very few ways to win a basketball game against a Big East opponent.

South Carolina learned as much Thursday night as the Gamecocks lost, 76-67, to Providence by shooting 26 of 72, including 6 of 30 on 3-pointers.

They got precious little from their backcourt, other than Eric Smith, who scored 16 points and shot 6 of 13, 3 of 8 on 3s. The other three guards -- Damien Leonard, Bruce Ellington and Brian Richardson -- combined to shoot 5 of 28, 0 of 15 on 3s, and score 11 points.

It was the third straight loss for the Gamecocks (2-5), who travel to Clemson on Sunday (3:30 p.m., ESPNU) as they try to avoid digging themselves a deeper December hole in what coach Darrin Horn hopes isn't his third straight losing season. As the Gamecocks left the floor Thursday, the public address speakers played "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year."

Ellington, last year's leading scorer, surely hoped for more from his basketball debut after he missed the first six games while playing wide receiver for USC's football team. He came off the bench and played 27 minutes. Smith started at point guard and played 28.

Ellington scored six points and shot 3 of 11, 2 of 7 in the second half -- essentially mirroring Richardson's ineffective first half (1 of 8) -- as the Gamecocks, who never led after the game's first minute, couldn't get any closer than four, with 8:58 left. Providence (6-2) got a four-point play and went up 57-47 with 6:25 left after Smith fouled Bryce Cotton while he shot a 3-pointer.

"Just the kind of plays you can't make in games like this," Horn said. "There's no excuse for that."

USC trailed 34-27 at halftime after settling for too many outside shots against Providence's zone defense. The Gamecocks shot 12 of 39 in the first half, 2 of 14 on 3s - 0 of 10 by Leonard, Richardson and Ellington.

"They were in the zone, so we kind of fell in love with the 3-point shot," Smith said.

Leonard, USC's starting shooting guard and a highly regarded freshman, has struggled mightily with his shooting in all but two games this year. He was 0 of 5 Thursday, shooting only 3s.

He shot 5 of 12 against both Mississippi Valley State and North Carolina -- and 4 of 9 and 5 of 11 in 3s in those games. He scored 16 points in the former, 15 in the latter. In the other five games, he is 5 of 43, 3 of 30 on 3s, for 17 points. He scored zero Thursday for the second straight game. In his past two games, he is 0 of 11, 0 of 9 on 3s.

"I know for sure that Damien and Brian both made 300 3s this week (in practice) prior to the game," Horn said. "At some point, it's a matter of: You've got to make some shots."

As Ellington adjusts to playing basketball again, Horn needs more from Leonard and Richardson.

"I've been saying for months, the key (with Ellington) is going to be patience," Horn said. "It's unfair to Bruce to ask him to come in and be in all-freshman SEC form when he hasn't played basketball in six months."