Sloppy play leaves Gamecocks winless in SEC

During its Southeastern Conference preseason schedule, the University of South Carolina struggled at the start of games, always falling behind. That has not been the case since the Gamecocks began league play, however, as they have been competitive in the first halves of their four conference games, only to come out sluggish after intermission.

During its Southeastern Conference preseason schedule, the University of South Carolina struggled at the start of games, always falling behind.

That has not been the case since the Gamecocks began league play, however, as they have been competitive in the first halves of their four conference games, only to come out sluggish after intermission.

That was the case in Saturday's 63-52 road loss to Auburn, as USC went to the locker room owning a 28-24 advantage, but was outscored by the Tigers 22-8 to start the final period.

The Gamecocks enter Wednesday's home game against the Alabama with a 0-4 SEC mark and an 8-10 overall record.

While for the most part, USC's problems have remained the same throughout the season -- an inability to consistently create offense -- a new concern reared its head against Auburn. The Gamecocks committed 23 turnovers, which is way above their season average. The team continued to shoot poorly, making only 20-of-49 field-goal attempts.

"The story of the game was our turnovers," said USC coach Darrin Horn."We're talking about key guys. We never got into an offensive flow."

Making matters worse for Horn was a majority of the Gamecocks turnovers came from his top players. Senior Malik Cooke, the team's leading scorer, had six. Sophomore center Damontre Harris and sophomore point guard Bruce Ellington had five turnovers each.

"Seven transition turnovers," Horn said. "That doesn't have anything to do with (Auburn's) defense, that's all us. Those are just huge difference makers."

The loss leaves Carolina as the only winless team in SEC play.

NOTES, QUOTES

Lack of go-to scorer a major hindrance

--South Carolina continues to struggle to find a consistent go-to scorer. It appeared sophomore PG Bruce Ellington was prepared to step into that role after scoring 37 points in USC's two previous games prior to Auburn. But he had his worst shooting performance of the season against the Tigers, scoring only nine points on a 4-of-14 shooting night.

Senior F Malik Cooke, the team's most consistent scorer, believes there are answers to the problem on the team.

"I think we have guys who can do that," said Cooke. "We just have to stay focused. We have to keep on pushing."

--Sophomore Damontre Harris had many thinking of former Gamecock All-Conference C Sam Muldrow. The 6-9 performer blocked a career-high six shots against Auburn. He now has 39 on the season. While his offense has been up and down, he has been a constant defensively.

"Damontre has really been playing well defensively and should only get better," said Horn. "He is an important presence for us inside."

--Sophomore G Brenton Williams has struggled to get consistent playing time this season through no fault of his own. A sprained knee put him on the shelf early in the season. When he returned, his playing time was significantly lowered. That changed in USC's home game against Florida, when he scored nine points and did a good job negating the Gators' press. It continued against Auburn, as he served as the first player off the bench to sub in for sophomore PG Bruce Ellington. He finished with six points and a steal in nine minutes and appears to have supplanted Eric Smith as Ellington's backup.

BY THE NUMBERS: 4/5 -- South Carolina PG Bruce Ellington dished out four assists against Auburn, but he was charged with five turnovers. That was a killer for the Gamecocks, who count on the sophomore to control the ball most of. Ellington entered the game on a roll, having dished out seven assists with only one turnover in USC's previous two encounters.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We've just got to keep working to get better. No one wants to hear we're young, but it's true. The only way to change that is game action." -- USC coach Darrin Horn on the Gamecocks' relative youth.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
--vs. Alabama, Jan. 25
KEY MATCHUPS: Damontre Harris has been playing his best basketball for South Carolina in recent games. His team needs that to continue if it is to have any chance of defeating an Alabama team that enters with a 13-6 record. Senior JeMychal Green and junior Tony Mitchell give the Crimson Tide a formidable 1-2 punch inside. Green leads the team in scoring (14.2 ppg) and is second in rebounding (7.0 rpg), while Mitchell is second in scoring (13.3) and first in rebounding (7.2).

The matchup could be interesting, as Alabama enters the game riding a three-game league losing streak after falling to Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and Kentucky.

--at Mississippi, Jan. 28.
KEY MATCHUPS: One of the Gamecocks' biggest challenges will be finding a way to stop Mississippi's top inside threat, Murphy Holloway. Following two solid seasons in Oxford, Miss., Holloway, a native of Columbia suburb Irmo, transferred to USC to be closer to his family. After practicing with the Gamecocks and sitting on the bench throughout the season, he opted to return to Mississippi. He is scoring in double figures and is the team's leading scorer.

FUTURES MARKET: South Carolina continues to find consistency at shooting guard, where freshman Damien Leonard and sophomore Brian Richardson have almost exclusively logged playing time. While both have had their moments, neither has played well for a long enough stretch to earn the position. Richardson has started the last two games, but it was Leonard who played better offensively against Auburn. The team desperately needs one, if not both, to step it up.

PLAYER NOTES

--Junior G/F Lakeem Jackson opened the season as USC's starting point guard while the team waited for Bruce Ellington to complete his stint as a wide receiver with the football team. The experiment did not work well, however, as sophomore Eric Wade took over the spot after a few games until Ellington returned. In recent weeks, Jackson has struggled to even log playing time at his natural position of swing guard, as he has gotten in mostly late at the end of games.

--Sophomore PG Eric Smith has struggled with his ball handling and distribution skills throughout the season, but he managed to draw playing time due to his ability to make outside shots. That has not happened in recent games though, as he has been relegated almost exclusively to the bench.

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