The Gamecocks' best chances to clinch a victory over Ole Miss Saturday afternoon came with no one standing in their way, putting a hand in their face or even so much as distracting them.
South Carolina's key to victory in a game it ultimately lost by one point was simple: Make free throws. The Gamecocks couldn't do that against Ole Miss, sinking to 7-10 overall and 0-4 in the SEC after missing 12 of their 36 free throw attempts.
Ten of those misses came in a second half where South Carolina struggled to shut the door on an Ole Miss team that kept firing back.
"Turnovers and missed free throws is a problem," said USC head coach Frank Martin. "We missed free throws, we turned it over early in the second half to let them get in the game. And then we had a chance to really get in the lead, and obviously we couldn't make free throws there for a stretch."
Senior guard Brenton Williams was his usual self from the line, sinking all nine of his attempts, but the rest of the team shot just under 56 percent from the charity stripe. The Rebels, by contrast, shot 81 percent from the line in the second half to complete the road comeback.
"Can't miss free throws and win close games," Martin said. "That's hard to do."
STUFFING THE STAT SHEET. Freshman guard Sindarius Thornwell's mercurial season continued Saturday, as he led the Gamecocks in points (24) and rebounds (11) and tied Duane Notice for the team lead with four assists. On par with the inconsistency he's had all season, the reigning SEC Freshman of the Week scored just five points before fouling out in a loss at Texas A&M Wednesday. But with Tyrone Johnson out indefinitely with a broken foot and Duane Notice in foul trouble against Ole Miss, Thornwell embraced the role of running the point.
"Playing point, it helps with the scoring part because you get more people the ball," Thornwell said. "It's harder too. I get more tired having to bring it up. I just have to step up and lead the team because he was out."
Thornwell shot 7-16 from the field, but buried four of his seven attempts from beyond the arc. Martin likes the play and growth he's seen from Thornwell lately.
"Sin's a good player, and he's been playing real well for us," Martin said. "It's unfortunate he got in foul trouble at Texas A&M, but that was his fault.
"Coaches watch film, and they saw him relaxed on defense, and they went at him and he committed fouls. That's part of growth as a player. He bounced back. He was good at practice yesterday, he was real good this morning in preparation, and I'm not surprised he played well today."
BIG MEN WANTED. South Carolina outrebounded Ole Miss 40-31, but that did little to soften Martin's fury toward the Gamecocks frontcourt. South Carolina's guards did more than their share of the heavy lifting Saturday, combining for 19 rebounds while the rest of the team tallied 21.
"Our bigs -- I don't understand how you don't get a rebound. I really don't," Martin said. "I really don't comprehend that. We've got four bigs that combined for three defensive rebounds today. I don't understand how that can happen. Guards have led us in rebounding for three straight games. I don't know what to say there. We've got to coach better and they've got to play better."
Martin was also disappointed with the way his frontcourt performed on the defensive end, especially against Ole Miss forward Anthony Perez, who led the Rebels with 22 points.
"He takes the ball and drives it to the rim, and our big guys can't guard anybody," Martin said. "I wish I can give you a better answer than that. They throw him the ball, our guys are working their tails off out there, they throw him the ball, he drives it, and our big guys just kind of stand there and get out of the way. That's on me.
"We've obviously got to adjust our practice schedule to emphasize guarding. Guarding the dribble from the big spot. Everyone is doing that to us, it's not just tonight. That's been a recurring problem all year."
GOING COLD. Senior guard Brenton Williams had a miserable shooting day, going 0-10 from the floor and snapping several of his streaks. For the first time in eight games, Williams failed to score in double figures. Williams also failed to make at least two three-pointers for the first time in 10 games.
But the sharpshooter found a way to make an impact anyway, drawing fouls by attacking the basket, notching two rebounds and an assist, and burying all nine of his attempts from the free-throw line.
LEGENDS WEEKEND. The game capped Carolina Basketball Legends Weekend, a two-day affair commemorating legendary USC basketball coach Frank McGuire. A host of politicians, media, and former players and coaches gathered Friday afternoon at Colonial Life Arena to honor McGuire, who died in 1994, and to see the stretch of Greene Street running from Assembly to Gadsden Streets dedicated as "Frank McGuire Way."
McGuire-era legends signed autographs on the Colonial Life Arena concourse before the game, and they were honored by decade on the court 15 minutes before tip-off. They were greeted to a standing ovation from a very healthy home crowd.
TAKING A SLIM LEAD. With the win, Ole Miss pulls ahead in the all-time series with South Carolina. The Rebels now own a 16-15 advantage, and the Gamecocks fall to 10-2 against Ole Miss in Columbia. For the first time in five contests between South Carolina and Ole Miss, the home team didn't win. Saturday's game also marked the third straight between the teams to be decided by four points or less.
RUNNING THE GANTLET. Entering Saturday's game, South Carolina's strength of schedule ranked 24th in the nation according to ESPN.com and 33rd according to CBSSports.com.
Team SEC, Overall
Florida 4-0, 15-2
Georgia 3-1, 9-7
Kentucky 3-1, 13-4
Ole Miss 3-1, 12-5
Texas A&M 3-1, 12-5
Alabama 2-2, 8-9
LSU 2-2, 11-5
Mississippi State 2-2, 12-5
Missouri 2-2, 14-3
Tennessee 2-2, 11-6
Vanderbilt 1-3, 9-7
Arkansas 1-3, 12-5
Auburn 0-4, 8-7
South Carolina 0-4, 7-10
No. 13 Kentucky 74, Tennessee 66
Georgia 66, Arkansas 61
Mississippi State 81, Texas A&M 72
Missouri 68, Alabama 47
No. 7 Florida 68, Auburn 61
Ole Miss 75, South Carolina 74.
LSU 81, Vanderbilt 58
Click Here to view this Link.