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February 25, 2012
TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS (15-13, 7-6 SEC)
SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS (10-17, 2-11)
When: 8 p.m. today
Where: Colonial Life Arena, Columbia
TV: Fox Sports Net
Tickets: Available at the box office
Tennessee's probable starters: G Skylar McBee 6-3 Jr. (6.6 ppg, 1.1 rpg); G Cameron Tatum 6-7 Sr. (7.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg); G Trae Golden 6-1 So. (13.0 ppg, 2.9 rpg); F Jeronne Maymon 6-7 Jr. (12.5 ppg, 8.0 rpg); F Jarnell Stokes 6-8 Fr. (8.4 ppg, 7.0 rpg)
South Carolina's probable starters: G Bruce Ellington 5-9 So. (10.4 ppg, 2.5 rpg); G Damien Leonard 6-4 Fr. (6.7 ppg, 1.1 rpg); F R.J. Slawson 6-8 So. (4.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg); F Malik Cooke 6-6 Sr. (12.2 ppg, 4.7 rpg); C Damontre Harris 6-9 So. (7.0 ppg, 5.4 rpg)
Notes: South Carolina is back home for its final two-game homestand of the season. The Gamecocks are on another lousy February, recording a 1-6 record thus far. Tennessee won the first matchup 69-57. McBee's last 36 field goals have been 3-pointers. The Volunteers have won five of six and are in a three-way tie for fourth place in the SEC. The top four seeds get byes in the SEC tournament. UT leads the overall series 36-23 but USC leads 14-11. Coach Darrin Horn has never beaten the Volunteers or Mississippi State in his USC tenure, and plays them in his next two games. USC had just four free-throw attempts in its last game, compared to 28 by Vanderbilt. Horn voiced his displeasure about it afterward, bringing it up four times in the post-game.
Next game: South Carolina hosts Mississippi State at 8 p.m. on Wednesday.
Darrin Horn said his piece about the massive discrepancy in free-throw shooting (28-4) after Wednesday's loss at Vanderbilt. That was a single-game problem.
On Friday, he addressed what's been a season-long problem - scoring, or the lack thereof.
"You can't win games when you score 48 points," Horn said, as reeling South Carolina tries to inject some kind of positive back into its season as the final three games approach. "We've got to find a way to get easy baskets. Guys that are capable of making plays have to make those plays."
Horn knew it would be rough this season, having to go through the entire period of fall camp without the director of his offense. Bruce Ellington is only now returning to the form he showed last year in a freshman All-SEC season.
He also knew that it's usually a crapshoot when dealing with players that aren't the cream of the high-school crop when they come to college. In practice, though, Damien Leonard was lighting it up, and Anthony Gill was hammering away in the post, and Malik Cooke was steady as a metronome.
In the games, though
Leonard runs so hot and cold that it's like he has a set of taps on his hips. Gill, after some very strong games, seems to have run into the freshman wall. Cooke is usually good for double figures, but the explosiveness and want of his 21 points against Ohio State way back when has only been seen in flashes since.
Damontre Harris has been very strong and is learning to be an offensive catalyst to go along with his defense. R.J. Slawson can get five points per game. Brenton Williams, when he doesn't try to do too much, can hit from inside and out.
But nobody does it consistently. The Gamecocks ranked 296th in scoring offense and 293rd in field-goal percentage (each out of 338) before Wednesday's 59-48 loss at Vanderbilt and after shooting 32.7 percent from the field, will probably stay right around there once the new figures are released.
"We knew we would have some challenges coming in because of our inexperience," Horn said. "We didn't have a guy on the wing who could go get a basket. Our post guys are developing. Did we think it's what we would be now? No, I didn't.
"One thing that we were confident in coming in was we had guys who could make shots, and we're not making them."
USC (10-17, 2-11) has three regular-season games, plus at least one in the SEC tournament, to try and avoid the program's fourth 20-loss season. The schedule appears favorable, although tonight's game against streaking Tennessee is a doozy.
But that game, as well as the next game against slipping Mississippi State, are at home. The regular season ends on the road at Georgia, where a Bulldogs team that USC beat waits.
This far into the season, the Gamecocks won't be changing their offensive style or sets. The problem is, they don't know what works best.
Leonard was doing well coming off the screen at the top and unleashing a 3-pointer, but he was 2-of-10 against Vanderbilt. Ellington played a good game against Vanderbilt with 15 points and four assists, but shot 5-of-13 and is at his best in transition.
Harris and Gill combined for eight points against the Commodores and Williams scored five, trying to drive and getting roundly rejected by Festus Ezeli each time (although there might have been some contact). USC is a surprisingly good team when it gets to the free-throw line, but only got there four times against Vanderbilt.
Still, a team can't go into a game depending on free throws. It has to have someone who it can hand the ball to in a scoreless drought, or a set way to attack the defense.
The Gamecocks don't have the former and are deciding on a latter for the Volunteers. They just have to make it work.
"Phenomenal defensive performance by our guys in Nashville," Horn said. "Bottom line is, we didn't score. We attacked the basket, but we just didn't finish."
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