CHARLESTON -- It had to end sometime.
That it was agonizingly close just hurt a little more.
South Carolina lost its first game of the season on Friday, 82-80 in overtime to College of Charleston. The Cougars, dedicating John Kresse Court at Carolina First Arena during halftime, and the Gamecocks combined to nearly burn the new barn down, but Tony White Jr. sunk two free throws with 3.4 seconds left to set the final margin and the Cougars picked off USC's last desperation pass to ice it.
It was a tough one to drop, especially after Dominique Archie nailed a 3-pointer for a 76-74 lead with 11.7 seconds left in regulation. But the Cougars' Andrew Goudelock caught a pass under a leaping Devan Downey with 2.6 seconds left and fired with his foot on the arc, sinking a 19-footer for a tie game.
That set up the overtime, where USC never led but came back twice to tie the score. The Gamecocks had the ball and an 80-80 ballgame with 23 seconds left, but Downey was wrapped on an attempted drive to the hole, Charleston recovered and White was fouled on the other end.
He sunk his shots and Archie tried a baseball pass from the baseline. It was tipped and hauled in by Charleston's Antwaine Wiggins, setting up an emergency foul situation and leading to the final horn.
USC coach Darrin Horn credited the Cougars and recognized Charleston's similarities to his team. Both feature long, athletic players who use speed as their main weapon, and the Cougars just had a bit more of it on Friday.
"Disappointed, obviously," Horn said. "We're disappointed we did fight and put ourselves in position to win the game."
If the Gamecocks (4-1) could have just found one more shot or one more defensive stop, they could have felt good about the game, despite the problems. Charleston exposed every one of USC's weaknesses -- trying to out-race the opponent and losing the ball, thin depth and rebounding, the last a battle the Gamecocks won overall but lost every key board to the Cougars.
A win would have disregarded all of them as problems to work on but nothing that cost them a game.
USC can't say that anymore.
"These guys just kept fighting and fighting," said Downey, who again led the Gamecocks with a game-high 22 points. "We had 19 (turnovers), which is a season-high. You got to take care of the ball on the road."
USC only caused 12 turnovers and gave up 11 steals, some because of Charleston's trapping defense but the majority being the Gamecocks simply dropping the ball. USC lost rebounds too many times for multiple shots on Charleston possessions and despite only giving up five 3-pointers, was caught looking on too many drives into the lane.
Still, despite all of it, the Gamecocks were ahead when Mike Holmes took a dish from Archie and hit a turnaround jumper with 4:25 to play. USC was up 67-65 and Charleston increased its effort for the duration.
The Cougars (5-1) re-took the lead after White Jr. scored five straight points and Jermaine Johnson scored on a lay-up. USC fought back when Evka Baniulis aced a 3-pointer, his only points of the second half, and Holmes rebounded Goudelock's floating jumper.
Horn called timeout and drew up the play, which called for a spreading of the floor. Downey got the ball and flipped to Zam Fredrick on the wing, who quickly relayed to Archie on the opposite side.
The junior rose and flicked the ball with perfect spin, watching it nestle through the hoop for a two-point lead with 11.7 seconds left. "It was just, we just got to get the shot," he said. "I took the shot when I had it."
But Goudelock wasn't about to let the first night in the officially named arena slip away. He got the ball under Downey's outstretched arm and shot for a tie game.
Fredrick tied the game at 78 in overtime with a spinner into the lane but Charleston went back ahead when Johnson hit two free throws. USC missed three shots on one possession before the Cougars recovered, but Archie got the ball to Downey, who flipped his last points into the hole for a tie game at 1:08.
Goudelock missed a floating jumper on the other end and Baniulis rebounded, giving USC another chance. Charleston would still have a possession but if the Gamecocks could go ahead, they could make the Cougars play catch-up.
Downey dribbled some time off the clock and drove, weaving his way to the right of the paint. He left his feet and had the ball in his right hand before he crashed into a defender and lost the shot.
There was no whistle and Charleston recovered, which set up the game-winning points. Downey nor Horn wanted to speak about it and each said the team simply didn't do enough to win.
"That's not what these kind of games come down to," Horn said. "They come down to the course of the game, defending and rebounding and taking care of the basketball and over the course of 45 minutes those are not three things we did well enough to win a game like this."
"Referee didn't call the foul, it's not a foul," Downey said.
Holmes finished with another double-double (14 points and 12 rebounds), Archie had 12 points and was joined by Branden Conrad (10) and Baniulis (14) in double figures. Fredrick, who scored 41 points in his last two games, had a mere eight on 2-of-11 shooting.
Archie stood with the hood of his warmup jacket hovering just above his eyes. His 3-pointer at Ole Miss last year led the Gamecocks to a win and his shot on Friday seemed about to do the same.
Until the Cougars quit quitting.
"Every game's a new game," Archie mumbled. "That shot at Ole Miss couldn't do nothing for us tonight."