COLUMBUS, Ohio -- They weren't beaten by the arena, the ranking or the road atmosphere.
No, South Carolina was beaten -- badly -- by a very good basketball team.
The Gamecocks had their six-game winning streak emphatically broken 79-57 by No. 2 Ohio State on Saturday, the Buckeyes taking control early and never letting up. There was the thought at halftime that perhaps USC could make a run, just as it did against Michigan State when it trailed 17 at the half but only six with two minutes to play.
That was extinguished when the Buckeyes ran off seven straight points after USC had cut the lead to 15, while forward Malik Cooke picked up his third and fourth fouls in less than 30 seconds. Ohio State used its mammoth advantage in the lane to continually pound the Gamecocks' post players and score easy buckets, paving a runaway 10th win.
USC (7-2) learned a hard lesson -- it has been good, better than expected, this season, but while it may be a good team, there is usually a better team and a bad day just around the corner. Especially when said team is a veteran bunch with one of the country's best freshmen against a team that hasn't been together that long.
"We took this game knowing that it was going to be a tremendous challenge for our team and our program," coach Darrin Horn said. "It's plain and simple -- a good old-fashioned whipping."
The Buckeyes (10-0) went to their strength from the tip -- forward Jared Sullinger. The immense freshman, cat-quick despite standing 6-foot-9 with 280 pounds, missed his first two shots but was fouled by Cooke less than a minute in, which put him on the line to make two free throws.
It began a harsh trend. Cooke was on Sullinger, but was giving up a lot of girth; Sullinger used his bulk to work a second foul on Cooke before the clock hit 16:00, removing his chief obstacle in the lane.
"I don't know if it really knocked us out of the gameplan, but for me personally, it just took me out of my rhythm a little bit," Cooke said. "It was pretty frustrating."
Horn said the plan was to let Sullinger do his thing, since the Gamecocks couldn't hope to contain him without putting themselves in severe foul trouble, and to guard the Buckeyes' other shooters. It mostly worked in the half-court, but 15 Gamecock turnovers became 18 Ohio State points.
Added to Sullinger's 30 points and 19 rebounds, it was more than enough.
"I never seen a player that way," guard Bruce Ellington said. "He's a great player. I'm looking forward to seeing him keep playing."
Sullinger used Cooke's absence to score 11 of the Buckeyes' first 18 points, also backing down Cooke's replacement, freshman Damontre Harris. Ohio State rode its biggest pony to a large lead, then kept adding to it.
The plan mostly worked -- Sullinger cut loose and the Buckeyes only hit four 3-pointers -- but the Gamecocks couldn't make it count. Too many shots right on the rim became zeroes and lost rebounds, and when Ellington had to sit with three fouls, Ohio State leaped ahead by 21.
The last three points of that run were on a circus shot from Sullinger, who got the ball 33 feet from the hoop. Doubly guarded with less than three seconds to shoot, Sullinger turned and tossed a try that banked through the net.
Horn said the effect of the shot wasn't a factor, since the Gamecocks were well behind anyway. He was right, judging from the second half, when USC hit four of its first six shots to climb within 15. That was followed by Cooke's last two fouls and a David Lighty-keyed run.
"We needed to do a good job on the glass and needed to limit 3-point shots and transition baskets," Horn said. "We did that with 3-point shots, but in the other two areas, just did a really poor job."
Because of the Buckeyes' length on the perimeter, USC couldn't work the ball in to Sam Muldrow. Muldrow got the ball a few times in the second half and hit the majority of his outside shots to finish with a team-high 14 points, while Cooke recovered from his foul trouble to score 13.
But the rest of the Gamecocks couldn't find their usual games. Ramon Galloway scored eight first-half points to put a small Band-Aid on the bleeding, but was silent afterward. Ellington, with his foul trouble, only had six points (but also three rebounds, five assists and only one turnover). Lakeem Jackson again had a fine game, with seven points, eight rebounds and four assists, but couldn't get past the Buckeyes' towers to really boost the offense.
Horn pointed out the difference in experience between the two teams, and was correct, but also regretted missed opportunities.
"They're obviously very good, but we missed at least five point-blank layups that nobody challenged in the first half, and I really think it took the wind out of us," Horn said. "We quit moving the basketball and started attacking their defense when it was set."
"When I was out there, I could see that they were a veteran team, and I could see our youth out there at times," Cooke said. "I think there will just come a time. We'll practice and hopefully get past this."
The Gamecocks will play at Furman on Wednesday.
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