Basketball team preparing for first road test

After opening the season with four straight home games, the Gamecocks will hit the road for the first time Friday night when they make the two-hour drive down I-26 to face College of Charleston. It may not be the most exotic road trip, but that does not make it any easier. The Cougars are 4-1 this season with a deep and talented roster, plus they are dedicating their new facility Friday night.

"I think it's going to be a huge challenge," said Darrin Horn. "I think they're a really good basketball team. It's going to be a hostile environment. It's going to be a big game not just because of the dedication of the building but because of all the things that come with the matchup."

Being the opponent when a team dedicates a new facility is not ideal, of course, but that is the case for the Gamecocks. College of Charleston will dedicate the new Carolina First Arena Friday night. There will be some familiar aspects of the new building for longtime Gamecock fans, though. Former Gamecock Bobby Cremins coaches the Cougars, and the court is named for College of Charleston coach John Kresse, whose name adorned the Cougars' previous facility. Being the opponent as the facility is dedicated is something like being a sacrificial lamb or a homecoming opponent in football, but Horn is not going to play up any disrespect angle.

"I don't think we'll present it to them that way," Horn said. "I think the motivation is that we've handled every challenge we've had so far, and now we've got a new challenge, which is a really good team and our first road test."

Even with wins over perennial NCAA Tournament team Winthrop and established "giant-killer" Gardner-Webb on their resume, the Cougars are clearly the stiffest challenge for Carolina in the young season. College of Charleston has scored 93 and 94 points in its last two games, both on the road.

"I don't think there is any question it is the most talented, deepest team that we've played, and the most athletic," said Horn. "They've got a lot of guys that do a lot of different things. Any time a team plays like that, they're dangerous."

Horn has a chance to tie a South Carolina record Friday night. He has won four straight games to open his Gamecock career, and if he beats College of Charleston, the five wins would tie him for the best start ever at Carolina. What does Horn think of that?

"I did not know that, and no, it does not mean anything to me," he said. "College of Charleston means something to me right now."

With the game on Friday, the Gamecocks are forced to use the Thanksgiving holiday as a practice day. They will still celebrate the holiday, though. Carolina will practice Thursday morning and night, with a midday break to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner. Players with local family or other local plans will be able to dine where they want, and other players are invited to enjoy a holiday meal with Horn. Unfortunately for Mrs. Horn, who is responsible for preparing the Thanksgiving dinner, the list of players coming over to the Horns' house was still unknown when Horn spoke to the media Wednesday afternoon.

"I don't even know the exact list yet," said Horn. "I think it's three or four maybe. We'd better have that finalized by this evening though or there's going to be one person preparing the meal that is not going to be happy with the head coach, regardless of the record."

In other news, it has been nearly two weeks since junior guard Brandis Raley-Ross sprained his knee against Jacksonville State. He was initially projected to be out 3-4 weeks, and that projection has not changed. Raley-Ross was off crutches Tuesday night, playing the role of cheerleader on the Gamecock bench.

"He's progressing," said Horn. "In terms of the exact date he's back, he's on the schedule he was on before."

Carolina takes on College of Charleston at 7 PM Friday evening. The game will be televised by CSS.

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