SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS (7-2)
FURMAN PALADINS (7-2)
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Timmons Arena, Greenville
Tickets: Available at the box office
South Carolina's probable starters: G Bruce Ellington 5-9 Fr. (12.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg); G Brian Richardson 6-4 Fr. (8.2 ppg, 2.3 rpg); F Lakeem Jackson 6-5 So. (9.4 ppg, 6.7 rpg); F Malik Cooke 6-6 Jr. (9.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg); C Sam Muldrow 6-9 Sr. (10.0 ppg, 6.4 rpg)
Furman's probable starters: G Darryl Evans 6-1 Sr. (9.1 ppg, 3.2 rpg); G Jordan Miller 6-2 Sr. (10.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg); F Noah States 6-8 Sr. (13.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg); F Amu Saaka 6-6 Sr. (15.1 ppg, 6.6 rpg); F Brandon Sebirumbi 6-9 Jr. (7.2 ppg, 3.6 rpg)
Notes: South Carolina plays its last game before breaking for Christmas, and its second straight road game. ... The Gamecocks lead the series 72-51, but trail the Paladins 30-23 in games played in Greenville. ... USC has not played in Timmons since the 1997-98 NCAA tournament season, winning that game 79-52 behind 16 points from BJ McKie. ... Cooke is 17-of-22 from the floor over his last four games, including 5-for-5 against Ohio State. ... States is leading the Southern Conference in 3-point shooting, converting 60 percent of his tries. He missed the last game with a groin injury but is expected to start tonight. ... USC is 8-17 on the road under Horn and has only won three of the past 11 road games.
Next game: South Carolina hosts Jacksonville State at 7 p.m. on Dec. 29.
Darrin Horn didn't mind bringing it up, even as a coach who normally doesn't like to recall past games with past teams as compared to his current team.
"I think it's a good reminder," Horn said on Tuesday. "You go back to Charleston. Nobody was here for that but Sam (Muldrow), but going on the road in-state against good teams ... yeah, it's going to be a challenge."
Only five eligible players of this year's South Carolina team were on the roster last year, when the Gamecocks fell 68-61 at Wofford only 13 days after they lost 72-61 at Clemson. Only Muldrow was around two years ago, when Horn's first road trip at USC was met with an 82-80 overtime loss at College of Charleston.
Horn has surely had some golden moments during his short tenure -- a 3-1 record against Kentucky comes to mind -- but is still searching for a first in another area. The Gamecocks (7-2) head to Furman tonight seeking to give Horn his first road win over an in-state team.
Thus far, he's 0-3. And while only Muldrow was around for those, the others are feeling responsible.
"We're pretty focused on this game," junior Malik Cooke said. "We know how important it is."
The Gamecocks have had a wonderful start to their season so far, winning three "maybe" games already and only losing twice, both to the then-No. 2 team in the country on its home floor. Although they are not looking past Furman to the rest of their non-conference schedule, it sets up well -- a Jan. 1 home game hosting a solid Boston College team seems to be the biggest obstacle between USC and an 11-2 record.
But the Paladins (7-2) are also there. This is not a neutral-court game, it's at cozy Timmons Arena. Furman would be plenty pumped enough to be hosting USC with a chance to knock off the state's flagship institution, but knowing the Gamecocks' previous foibles and their own record heightens the stakes.
Horn knew it and also that despite the immediate distraction -- turning the team loose for Christmas after the game -- he was going to have to find a way to get his team ready to battle an emotionally charged bunch of Paladins.
"I think that's a big part of it," he said. "That's part of the test and challenge that comes with every game. We've got to be prepared and we've got to be ready to play."
USC was clobbered by Ohio State in its last game, a contest where the wheels ran off rather early and the Gamecocks never found the time or the consistency to recover. As Horn said, when a veteran team that knows what works for it plays a team stocked with youth that is searching for a constant identity, that's what happens.
"We've got to be a team that does the little things and wins all the effort plays," he said. "I just think we got away from that. When you play a team like that, they take advantage of all that stuff."
Furman is obviously not Ohio State, but has the same record as USC and is putting up some nice numbers. The Paladins are off to their best start since the 1987-88 season and have won four straight, holding each opponent to less than 70 points. They have beaten UNC Asheville; S.C. State, Middle Tennessee, UNC Greensboro and North Florida, all on the road; and Elon, while losing at Penn State and at Kent State in overtime.
Three starters are averaging in double figures while another (Darryl Evans) is just behind at 9.1 points per game. Cooke wasn't building Furman up to be something it's not when he said it was a really good team.
"The little film that we've watched on them, that we have seen so far, shows us that they're pretty good," he said.
The Gamecocks succeed when everybody on the floor realizes his place on the team, since there is not a superstar to depend on. They were knocked out of it early against the Buckeyes and want to show they can immediately regroup.
After the game, the Gamecocks are off for Christmas break. They are due to report back to campus on Dec. 26, and will host Jacksonville State at 7 p.m. on Dec. 29.
It will be a much happier holiday with another win.
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