Trying to break out

The University of South Carolina's frustrations came to head when it scored a meager nine points in the first half in a home game against Southeastern Conference foe Georgia Feb. 12. It was a new low for the Gamecocks, who have been struggling to score during the second half of the conference season.

The nine points were the fewest scored in a half by a USC team since it joined the SEC in 1992. The previous low was 13 points in a home game against Mississippi in 2003 and road encounter against Florida in 2007.

Instead of lying down and allowing the Bulldogs to earn an easy victory away from home, however, USC rallied from a 24-point deficit to pull within two with 1:26 remaining, only to lose 60-56. The loss was the third straight and the fifth in Carolina's last six games through Feb. 13. The Gamecocks had dropped four consecutive games at home and, with a formidable schedule remaining, could finish in the Eastern Division cellar.

"I've been in this game a long time and you can be bad offensively, but to have single digits -- I've never been involved in a game where either team had that happen," said USC coach Darrin Horn. "Obviously our confidence was shook with our young group."

Horn heaped praise on his team for its comeback, he has yet to find a way to for his team to score consistently. Making matters worse, freshman point guard Bruce Ellington suffered a left thigh bruise against Georgia and is listed as day-to-day.

There was a bright spot for the Gamecocks as junior Malik Cooke came off the bench to lead the team in scoring with 15 points. He also grabbed five rebounds, had two steals and blocked a shot. In his first season playing with the team after transferring from the University of Nevada-Reno, he has proven to be one of the team's most reliable performers.

NOTES, QUOTES

--South Carolina returned to its original starting lineup of freshmen Bruce Ellington, Brian Richardson and Damontre Harris, along with sophomore Lakeem Jackson and senior Sam Muldrow with sophomore Ramon Galloway back in his sixth man role. While everyone struggled in the first half against Georgia, Richardson hit two long range 3-pointers at the start of the second half. Galloway never got on track, however, missing all four field goal attempts and finishing with four points.

--Junior Malik Cooke played against his former coach Mark Fox on Feb. 12. The two were together at Nevada-Reno where Fox coached before taking over the University of Georgia program. Cooke, who transferred to USC prior to the 2009-10 season, is in his first season playing with USC. He led the team in scoring against the Bulldogs with 15 points.

"I thought Malik gave us a great lift," said Horn. "He brought us energy, got some put backs ... He did some really good things for us."

--USC leading scorer Bruce Ellington was held scoreless for 35 minutes against Georgia, going 0-for-10 from the field during that span. He finished with a season low two points.

BY THE NUMBERS: 251 -- With four blocked shots against Georgia, senior Sam Muldrow set the USC record for most in a career, breaking the standard of 249 which was held by Brandon Wallace.

"It was a great accomplishment," said Muldrow. "I am real proud of myself. It was one of my goals."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It is incredibly difficult to do what our young team did today, to have a first half like we did offensively, with was an absolute fluke ... For us to bounce back and fight the way we did the second half and make the plays that we did with contributions from so many different guys -- it is really a step for our team." -- USC coach Darrin Horn on USC's second half comeback against Georgia.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

--at Tennessee, Feb. 16

KEY MATCHUPS: Tennessee has posed matchup problems for the Gamecocks since the arrival of Vols coach Bruce Pearl. USC has not won a game against UT since he took over the program. Tennessee has been particularly hard on the Gamecocks in Knoxville where it holds a 21-7 edge over the visitors. Of the players on the USC roster only sophomore Lakeem Jackson had much of an impact, scoring 10 points against UT on the road.

FUTURES MARKET: Sophomore guard Lakeem Jackson has struggled to get back into the swing of things since injuring his foot earlier in the season. Although he missed only one game, he has been forced to miss most practices in an attempt to let it rest. The Gamecocks slide has coincided with his injury.

--at Kentucky, Feb. 19

KEY MATCHUPS: After claiming three straight victories against the Wildcats after taking over as the Gamecocks coach, Darrin Horn has watched his team drop two straight in the series. Kentucky claimed a 67-58 victory in Columbia on Jan. 22nd.

FUTURES MARKET: Despite not being as effective as in the earlier part of the season freshman point guard Bruce Ellington has continued to give the Gamecocks an offensive presence. He scored 20 points against LSU, 13 against Vanderbilt and 14 versus Florida. His ability to effectively run the Gamecocks offense will be key.

PLAYER NOTES:

--Junior F Malik Cooke continues to play a leadership role for USC despite not being a starter. He was averaging 8.8 points per game through Feb. 13, which ranked fourth on the team, and was third in rebounding at 6.3. He was coming off his top scoring game of the season, 15 against Georgia. He was also the team's top free throw shooter at 75 percent.

--Freshman F R. J. Slawson hasn't received a lot of playing time, but has watched it increase in recent games. The 2010 South Carolina Mr. Basketball in high school scored eight points and pulled down two rebounds in 15 minutes of action against Georgia.

--Sophomore G Lakeem Jackson continued to struggle offensive since injuring his foot and will now miss the next three games. He scored only four points and grabbed one rebound in 20 minutes against Georgia.

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