One missed shot, one more lost opportunity.
Despite 24 points and a career-high four 3-pointers from Sindarius Thornwell, the freshman from Lancaster couldn't get his final 3 to fall under pressure at the buzzer as South Carolina fell to Ole Miss 75-74 to remain winless in Southeastern Conference play in front of a season-high 14,302 fans at the Colonial Life Arena.
Trailing by five with 37 seconds left, Ole Miss' Marshall Henderson missed the second of two free throws and Thornwell was fouled on the other end by Anthony Perez. Thornwell hit both shots to make it 74-71 with 35 seconds remaining, and after the Rebels' LaDarius White made just one of two on the other end to push Ole Miss' lead to four with 25 seconds left, the Gamecocks got a bit of luck.
With six seconds left an out-of-control 3-point attempt by Brent Williams, who finished with 9 points, was bailed out by a shooting foul by the Rebels' Demarco Cox. Williams sunk all three to make the score 75-74, and then electrified the crowd when he then intercepted Henderson's inbound attempt near half court.
The officials missed Williams' attempt to call a timeout, and seeing this Williams turned up court but had the ball tipped out of bounds with 1.8 seconds. From there the teams traded timeouts as the Gamecocks drew up a final play, but the result was a contested 3-pointer from Thornwell that never found the rim as the Rebels celebrated a road win.
"Originally Laimonas (Chatkevicius) was supposed to look for Mike (Carrera) on the slip," said Thornwell, who played significant minutes at the point guard position when Duane Notice got in foul trouble in the second half. "We didn't get that, so I should have popped more toward rim than out to get a better shot.
Martin said when the pressure collapsed on Thornwell, the freshma reacted instinctively instead of as the play was designed.
"Sin, instead of slipping to the elbow, he saw denial and he ran to the half-court line," Martin said. "Unfortunately, young kids, when they see pressure, they always run away from the basket. Whenever there's pressure, you don't run to the other basket, you cut to your basket.
"That's part of our growth."
Martin said the miscommunication on the game's final play rests on his shoulders, not Thornwell's.
"We got the timeout, we got the ball, and we didn't get the shot we wanted at the end," Martin said. "The bottom line is we didn't execute on the defensive end (before) or get the shot we wanted, and that ends up on my shoulders. It's my job to make sure that things are and articulated and worked on and rehearsed enough so guys are trained in the decision-making process at the end of a game."
"There's no excuse for us not getting a better shot there, but once again, that's on my shoulders."
The wild finish capped a wild second half. After trailing by 10 at the half 37-27 thanks to strong performances from Jaylen Shaw, who finished with 9, and Chatkevicius, who tied a season-high with 12 points, Ole Miss (12-5, 3-1) came out of halftime determined to change the tone of the game and did. After getting quickly down 12 following two Thornwell free throws, Ole Miss went on a 15-2 run to take A 42-41 lead with 15:17 remaining and from there the lead changed hands 10 times with 8 ties.
Still, the Gamecocks regrouped and looked to seize control for good when they took a 66-61 lead with 4:26 left. From there, however the Rebels showed poise and experience and countered with a decisive 12-2 run punctuated by an uncontested 3-pointer from Anthony Perez, who finished with a team-high 22 points, that broke a 68-68 tie and gave the Rebels a lead they wouldn't lose.
"What a great crowd,"said Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy. "(USC) had a back-to-the wall mentality and played that way. The energy in the building was outstanding.
"The thing that was encouraging to me was that our players were mad. I thought South Carolina out-toughed us. Second half, it didn't take us ten minutes to climb back, it took three minutes. I'm just happy that we got on the road and got a win."
For as happy as Kennedy was, Martin was equally upset.
"I'm really sick and tired of losing," Martin said. "I can't emphasize that enough. We have to grow up."
The only positive, Martin said, was the excitement generated by the celebration of Carolina Basketball Legends Weekend and the electricity the crowd provided.
"Great weekend," Martin said. "I couldn't be prouder of our fans.
"I couldn't be prouder of our former players. I've never been one to be scared to work, but after seeing how much those former guys care about their school, I've ready to work more than I ever have in my life."
That work begins tomorrow when he'll begin preparing his team for a two-game road stretch at Georgia on Wednesday and at Missouri on Saturday.