ELON, N.C. - Darrin Horn spoke of not recognizing one of the biggest drawbacks of his tenure at South Carolina.
Which is good, because it just got longer.
Horn's Gamecocks are now an incredible 0-4 on the road against a Southern Conference team, put there by Elon 58-53 on Tuesday. In the first game against a major-conference opponent at Alumni Gym, the Phoenix (1-1) got a bragging point for this and future seasons.
The Gamecocks, shackled by freezing shooting and massive foul trouble, were saddled with a loss that could wind up draining any positives that are gained this season. Youthful team, not a lot of experience, fill-in-the-excuse - SEC teams are not supposed to lose to a team like Elon, especially an Elon team that was missing starter Jack Isenbarger, who scored 22 points against USC last year.
But USC (1-1) did, and has done once each season since Horn arrived. It's the kind of loss that too many remember, the kind of loss where fingers are pointed and the kind of loss that a USC team already predicted to finish last in the SEC didn't need.
"Obviously, a very disappointing loss," Horn said. "We make no excuses. Obviously, the Southern Conference deal and not winning a game on the road, we don't have any excuse for that. We didn't get the job done."
The Gamecocks were a putrid 20-of-64 from the field (31.3 percent) and a horrendous 3-of-27 from the 3-point line. Scouting the Phoenix, it was known that they would try to fill the air with 3-pointers - they shot 35 in a season-opening loss at Massachusetts.
Instead, Elon shot 16, and made six. USC couldn't hit anything from outside, and not much from inside; forwards Anthony Gill and Damontre Harris scored a combined 19 points but sterling high-school shooter Damien Leonard was 2-of-17, including 1-of-11 from the 3-point line.
USC had its chances, cutting the lead to 45-44 with just under nine minutes to play after trailing 11 at the half. But then a couple of fundamental breakdowns popped up, and they dearly cost the Gamecocks.
First, Austin Hamilton drove the lane, threw up a shot and was shoved well after he shot by Malik Cooke. The ball kissed off the glass and through, Hamilton made the and-1 and Elon led by four.
Needing to answer, Gill was whistled for an off-the-ball foul, trying to clear the lane while Lakeem Jackson handled the ball on the wing. Although Elon missed its next shot, Brian Richardson missed a 3 and USC was called for another foul trying to guard the sideline on a fast break.
"I didn't get an explanation from the ref," Gill said. "It was in the flow of the game. But that's no excuse - we should have played better."
USC got some stops but couldn't make them count, shot after shot finding nothing but Elon hands on the rebound. The Gamecocks were forced to foul, and forced to watch yet another small-school student section rush the court as they sullenly lined up for post-game handshakes.
The Gamecocks defended very well, spread the ball around, only turned it over seven times. But they couldn't get a shot to fall and shot less free throws than Elon made, and it cost them the game.
With four games over seven days beginning on Sunday, including two in Las Vegas with one against No. 1 North Carolina, USC has to try and flush this. Cooke, the team's lone senior, was already on the case.
"We've just got to get back to the gym," Cooke said. "This isn't going to define our season. We've still got a lot of season left. We've just got to come back and get back to work tomorrow."
Elon's Lucas Troutman, a native of Belton, scored 16 points and was a constant around the glass, muscling past USC for easy buckets. Hamilton scored 12.
The Gamecocks had no one in double figures, but Cooke and Gill each had nine while Harris had eight and Leonard had seven. Cooke and Jackson each fouled out while all but three of the Gamecocks' 10 players had at least two fouls.
Still, they were in range of the comeback, trailing four times by three or less points in the second half. The stop never happened, and neither did the go-ahead shot.
Horn didn't duck the questions at all, and didn't blame it on calls or youth. It was hard to win when shots don't fall.
"That's going to happen some nights, and that's when all those little things become more magnified," Horn said. "Those deflections, and taking charges, and when we got it down to two possessions several times in the second half, we did not get the stop we needed or convert on the other end.
"We've got to come back and continue to get better. What this team needs now more than anything right now is practice time."
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