ATLANTA - With his eyes still red with tears, an emotional Brent Williams gave the final interview of his collegiate career Friday, maintaining his composure throughout and expressing his profound appreciation to Frank Martin and his teammates for believing in him.
"I'm proud to have been part of this team, this being my final game playing for South Carolina," said Williams, who was the Gamecocks leading scorer with 9. "Before the season I met with Coach Frank and I wanted to stick around and help him lead this program in the right direction.
"I'm proud of the young guys that came in, and they made progress as the year went on. I see they're going to be a good basketball team in the future."
The object of some of Frank Martin's toughest coaching and sincerest praise, Williams battled through a rebuilding season as the team's lone senior and yet mildest voice. Over the course of the year, as his confidence grew, he became a vocal leader, became a different player, became, in short, a man.
"Brenton has spoken more in the last five days than he has in the last two years," Martin said following the Auburn win on Wednesday. "That's part of the process. Sometimes a light comes on sooner than others. Well, it's come on for him the last five days.
"He's out there leading. Today he called defense. We had guys confused, and he jumped up and called defense. He hasn't done that in two years.
"So that's what you never stop coaching, because even though he's a senior and this could have been his last game, he is still fighting for that, trying to get better. That's the kind of character and leadership that you're trying to build, so that all those freshmen see it and they have someone to learn from."
Looking ahead, Williams said USC's run in Atlanta is a sign of things to come.
"It shows what this team is capable of doing," Williams said. "During the year we had our ups and downs, but I think toward the end of the year we started to make strides going in the right direction. That's what the coaches were trying to illustrate to us, showing what we're capable of doing if we do what we need to do.
"Today we were on the short end of things, but this program going into next season, just having confidence about themselves and the guys getting better over the summer and getting ready for next year (is in good shape)."
STRONG FINISH: After starting the SEC 1-9 and dealing with the January losses of Bruce Ellington (NFL) and Ty Johnson (broken foot), the Gamecocks finished the season 6-5. The 14 wins tied the number from last year, the 5 SEC regular-season wins were one better than last year, the three-game SEC winning streak was the best since 2009 and the two-game SEC Tournament winning streak was the best since 2006.
SHUT DOWN: In the first half, Tennessee clamped down on USC's offense, forcing the Gamecocks to 7-of-27 shooting. Held scoreless in the first half were Sindarius Thornwell (0-for-3, 7 minutes), Duane Notice (0-5, 11 minutes). Demetrius Henry (0-0, 7 minutes), Jaylen Shaw (0-1, 7 minutes) and Desmond Ringer (0-0, 3 minutes)
Besides Williams' 9 in the first half - he would be held scoreless in the second half - only three other players had points in the opening period and no other Gamecock had more than 4: Mindaugas Kacinas (4 pts., 19 minutes), Laimonas Chatkevicus (2 pts., 3 minutes) and Brian Steele (3 pts., 13 minutes).
BAD OUTCOMES: Losing to South Carolina helped get one coach fired and cost another team an NCAA berth. At the team hotel following Wednesday's loss to South Carolina, Auburn head coach Tony Barbee was dismissed, while it's widely believed that losing to USC cost Arkansas a shot at the NCAA Tournament. Depending on how Kentucky finishes, many point to the South Carolina loss as a reason the Wildcats might miss the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row.