MISSISSIPPI VALLEY STATE DELTA DEVILS (0-3)
SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS (1-2)
What: Second round, Las Vegas Invitational
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Colonial Life Arena, Columbia
Tickets: Available at the box office
Mississippi Valley State's probable starters: G Kevin Burwell 5-10 Sr. (9.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg); G Terrence Joyner 6-3 Jr. (9.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg); F Paul Crosby 6-8 Sr. (8.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg); F Falando Jones 6-4 Sr. (8.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg); F Amos Studivant 6-8 Sr. (10.0 ppg, 8.7 rpg)
South Carolina's probable starters:G Lakeem Jackson 6-5 Jr. (7.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg); G Damien Leonard 6-4 Fr. (5.7 ppg, 1.3 rpg); F Anthony Gill 6-8 Fr. (8.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg); F Malik Cooke 6-6 Sr. (9.7 ppg, 6.0 rpg); C Damontre Harris 6-9 So. (5.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg)
Notes: South Carolina finishes the second of a two-game homestand. … Backup guard Eric Smith scored a career-high 18 points in a loss to Tennessee State. … USC is in the midst of four games in seven days. … The Gamecocks have won the rebounding battle in all of their previous three games. … Freshman Brent Arrington scored 33 points off the bench for Mississippi Valley State in a 101-75 loss to North Carolina on Sunday. … USC sophomore guard Brenton Williams sustained a sprained left knee against Tennessee State on Sunday and will be out tonight and the next two games. … Former Kentucky standout Sean Woods is coaching MVSU. … The two teams have never played. … USC has already lost to the Southern Conference and the Ohio Valley Conference this year. The Delta Devils play in the Southwest Athletic Conference.
Next game: USC plays No. 1 North Carolina in Las Vegas at 10 p.m. on Friday in the third round of the Las Vegas Invitational.
There's nothing else to do but keep playing.
South Carolina is off to an apathetic and listless start to its season, already 1-2 and having lost to Elon and Tennessee State. The Gamecocks, shackled by poor shooting and thin depth, are in quite the fix - they have to find an answer and try to play better while in a tournament-style setting.
USC hosts winless Mississippi Valley State (0-3) tonight trying to do that. There doesn't seem to be much wrong with the Gamecocks that hitting a few shots can't fix, but they have to hit those shots and make sure the other team doesn't in order to get to that position.
"The biggest thing is getting them to understand who we have to be to be good and keeping them focused on that," coach Darrin Horn said after the TSU loss. "At some point, you have to respond."
USC nearly pulled off a 22-point comeback against the Tigers on Sunday, but when R.J. Slawson's game-tying free throw rattled out and Eric Smith turned the last possession over in the waning seconds, the Gamecocks were forced to realize their season is teetering on the abyss. If the comeback had happened, it would have been a building block for a young team - sure, it wouldn't have been good to be trailing that far to a mid-major team, but at least USC had the gumption to rally and win.
But they didn't, and now it's about trying to pick up the pieces and find an answer before playing an unscouted opponent only two days afterward. USC has to try and find a way to win tonight with only a nine-man team - sophomore Brenton Williams has a sprained left knee and is out for at least three games - and get some good feeling back among the roster before the next game.
Because the next game - on Friday in Las Vegas, taking on No. 1 North Carolina - has the potential to be very, very ugly, and that would be a with a team that had won all of its previous games. To come in with three straight losses, all to teams from one-bid tournament leagues, would be an invitation to disaster.
"It's definitely a concern," senior Malik Cooke said. "It's just coming back tomorrow and getting back to work. (Horn) and the coaching staff did everything to prepare us and we came out flat. That's on the players."
USC is under a burden of trying to come out strong so it doesn't fall behind, something that's dogged it in the past two games, and simply put the ball in the hole. The Gamecocks are shooting a respectable 40.4 percent from the field as a team, but only 23.1 percent from the 3-point line. Their most counted-on offensive player, freshman Damien Leonard, is also mired in a shooting slump, only converting five of his first 32 attempts (.156).
"We've got to learn, which apparently we didn't learn from our first loss earlier in the week, we've got to be a team that does the little things the best," Horn said. "We had 12 turnovers from our two point guards and our senior leader."
The Delta Devils seem to be a team that USC can match up with, a team with rangy athletes and not a lot of bulk inside. What the Gamecocks have to do is avoid the rampant foul trouble that forced another offensive go-to guy, freshman Anthony Gill, to the bench within two minutes of the TSU game and try to work an offensive game plan, not kick it around the perimeter until the shot clock winds down and throw up a 3-pointer.
The season isn't over by a long shot, but USC needs to start developing its trends for future games. The only trend established so far is losing games and the hopes for pulling a few surprises.
"They should be disappointed," Horn said, commenting on the dwindling fan base at Colonial Life Arena. "We've lost two games. We need to make sure we're playing our best basketball at the end of the season."
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