Holloway no distraction as USC heads to Ole Miss

OLE MISS REBELS (13-7, 3-3)
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Tad Smith Coliseum, Oxford, Miss.
TV: Fox Sports Net
Tickets: Available at the box office
South Carolina's probable starters: G Bruce Ellington 5-9 So. (11.0 ppg, 1.8 rpg); G Damien Leonard 6-4 Fr. (6.5 ppg, 1.4 rpg); F Anthony Gill 6-8 Fr. (8.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg); F Malik Cooke 6-6 Sr. (12.5 ppg, 4.9 rpg); C Damontre Harris 6-9 So. (6.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg)
Ole Miss' probable starters: G Nick Williams 6-4 Jr. (9.9 ppg, 3.8 rpg); G Jarvis Summers 6-4 Fr. (10.4 ppg, 2.3 rpg); F Murphy Holloway 6-7 Jr. (10.2 ppg, 9.3 rpg); F Reginald Buckner 6-8 Jr. (6.6 ppg, 8.7 rpg); F Terrence Henry 6-9 Sr. (12.0 ppg, 4.9 rpg)
Notes: South Carolina is on its first SEC win streak of the season. … Ole Miss saw a two-game winning streak snapped when Florida rallied from 16 points down to win on Thursday. … Henry is the reigning SEC Player of the Week. … The all-time series is tied at 14, but Ole Miss leads 9-1 in Oxford. The series was split last year, with USC beating the Rebels in Columbia but Ole Miss winning in the SEC tournament. … Gill matched his season-high with 33 minutes against Alabama, and didn't record a foul. … Cooke ranks fourth in the SEC with 1.9 steals per game, and his swipe against the Crimson Tide wiped out their last possession and became Ellington's buzzer-beating game-winning layup.
Next game: South Carolina tips off at No. 14 Florida at 9 p.m. on Thursday.
It was the white elephant in the room, so Darrin Horn discussed it right away.
"Obviously, I know one of the storylines is Murphy is playing for them," South Carolina's coach said on Friday, when he previewed the Gamecocks' game today at Ole Miss. "We've got nothing but good things to say about Murphy Holloway. We wish him the best."
The game has been circled - by some fans, anyway - since March. March was when, in the span of a week, Horn lost three players from his team, and then Bruce Ellington for part of the 2011-12 season due to him wanting to play football.
The one loss that would have made the others tolerable was Holloway. When he abruptly decided to leave USC after spending a year practicing with the Gamecocks, and transfer back to the place where had transferred from, it triggered alarm bells as to just what was going on in Horn's program.
Neither Holloway nor Horn ever gave a concrete reason as to why Holloway decided to go back to Ole Miss, where he had spent the first two years of his collegiate career after becoming an all-star at Irmo's Dutch Fork High School. At first glance, it seemed stunning just in itself - Holloway had expressed a desire to leave Ole Miss and come back to Columbia, where his mother was sickly and the mother of his newborn child lived. The Rebels blocked the transfer, meaning Holloway could still come to USC, but he would not be able to play (due to the NCAA's transfer rule) and he would not be able to be put on scholarship until the year was up.
Holloway paid his own way for school and practiced with the team, the Gamecocks counting on him being around for 2011-12 to replace the void from graduating senior Sam Muldrow. At 6-foot-7 and a stocked 240 pounds, Holloway was what USC had long desired - a center who could bruise in the paint, as opposed to the Gamecocks' usual collection of tall-and-lanky centers who were great defensively but not to be trusted offensively.
Then Holloway decided to go back to Ole Miss, Horn saying at the time that he didn't understand the transfer rule other than to say that it was very unlikely that Holloway would be eligible to play in 2011-12. Holloway filed a medical waiver with the NCAA, though, saying that he had come home to take care of his ill mother and that she was recovered, and the organization agreed and reinstated him.
Holloway said that he never had any problems with Horn, and Horn said that he still likes Holloway today. Each seems to be fine with the decision.
Holloway picked up where he left off, becoming a solid force on each end of the floor as Ole Miss (13-7, 3-3 SEC) attempted to use an experienced, bulky lineup to reach the NCAA tournament. The Rebels hit a setback when leading scorer Dundrecous Nelson was kicked off the team after a drug-related arrest, but had won two straight games before squandering a 16-point second-half lead and losing to Florida on Thursday.
USC, meanwhile, has struggled to do anything consistent on offense as Ellington has been streaky, freshman Anthony Gill has run hot and cold and center Damontre Harris has been a defensive whiz, but isn't quite at the point where he can be trusted for 10 points per game. Holloway would have been a focal point of the Gamecocks' offense, yet isn't.
But there are no bad feelings, Horn says.
Asked how he would tell his players to treat Holloway before and after the game, Horn jokingly chided, "What are we, in kindergarten?"
"I'm actually looking forward to seeing him again," he continued. "He's a good kid. We're not going to set guidelines about talking to the other players."
Holloway or no, USC (9-10, 1-4) is looking to build on the win it gained against Alabama on Wednesday. The Gamecocks again shot miserably, but their intensity was ratcheted to a previously untouched point - every loose ball was theirs, and that tenacity enabled them to get to the 5:00 mark with a tie game.
Ellington hit the game-winning layup with 1.3 seconds to play but Malik Cooke had a steal just before, and Gill had tipped in a miss for his only points of the game in the final two minutes. Everybody did their part, and USC finally broke through the SEC win column.
Now the Gamecocks want to do it one more time. Ole Miss may be the best chance to win another game in the first eight games of the SEC schedule - at No. 14 Florida and No. 1 Kentucky are next on the slate.
"Obviously our win the other night was something that was much needed," Horn said. "The next step to that is to do it on the road. This has been a pretty remarkable group. That continued yesterday."
USC kept its chin up through a four-game losing streak, and with a win in its pocket, that shouldn't change. There will be no over-confidence with a 1-4 league record, but perhaps a quiet calm that the Gamecocks can force an opponent into their game - tight defense, back-and-forth, the first team to 50 points will win.
Holloway can disrupt that, but he can also be taken out of the game. USC was able to neutralize Alabama's JaMychal Green, much of the same player as Holloway, and win.
If the Gamecocks can do it again, the spring decision becomes more and more of a moot point.
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