Senior night turns sour for Gamecocks

On a night that celebrated the careers of five Gamecock seniors, it was an emotional beginning and an emotional end. Unfortunately, the best moments of the night came at the beginning, and saw the Gamecocks lose a lead in the second half and fall to the Alabama Crimson Tide, 79-70.

The game began with a bang for the Gamecocks, who raced out of the gate to take a 11-0 lead on the Alabama Crimson Tide. Perhaps the loudest cheers of the half came at either end of the run, with Devan Downey opening up the scoring with 5 quick points. Already up 9-0, fan favorite Robert Wilder hit a basket to cap the opening run and ignite the Colonial Life Arena crowd.

"We got out to a great start," said USC head coach Darrin Horn. "A lot of it was energy plays, (and we) made great shots which always helps. Without a question we accomplished that goal."

It was a combination of defense and hot shooting that allowed South Carolina to get off to such a fast start, with Downey and others contributing several steals and converting those steals into points on the offensive end.

However with just under 7 minutes remaining the half, Bama began to get back in the game, going on a 9-0 run to cut the Gamecock lead to just 3 points at 34-31. Alabama's offense was able to get back in the game with their own combination of hot shooting and avoiding the Carolina defense that had dominated early on.

Although Bama held a significant 22-8 rebounding margin at the half, the Gamecocks were able to double them up in steals. Another big factor for USC was being able to force the Crimson Tide into 13 first half turnovers. However, these statistics would not hold in the second half, as Alabama was finally able to take advantage of those boards.

USC's was able to increase their lead briefly but headed into the halftime break with just a 39-36 lead.

Sometimes games are about second chances. And Alabama made the most of theirs; roaring back to life in the second half with an inside game that dominated the USC offense.

The Crimson Tide came out of the game with a 49-26 margin on the boards, and used their inside presence to force South Carolina to once again rely on their outside game to pull them through.

"Just in general that's a big number," said Horn. "(Sam) had one (rebound) at halftime and played 17 minutes. On a night that he has four rebounds, we're probably not going to look too good on the glass."

Not only did Alabama have a huge rebounding margin, but they also converted 16 second chance points to USC's 1 second chance point. Players like Justin Mitchell and Tony Knox were a big reason Bama was able to survive the early South Carolina onslaught and wear the Gamecocks down over time.

USC's free throw shooting also suffered late, hitting just 6-12 free throws down the stretch, some coming at crucial points in the game. Alabama head man Anthony Grant said that he was very happy with the win, especially after losing key player JaMychal Green to suspension earlier in the week.

"Great character win," said Grant. "We faced adversity early. Our guys kicked in at the end of the game from a defensive standpoint. We were able to do the things we needed to do to come out with the win."

Even with Devan Downey coming back to life somewhat in this game and scoring 23 points, numerous buckets didn't fall down the stretch for USC, and Alabama was able to close them out with free throws in the last minute of the game. As for the other seniors, Brandis Raley-Ross added just 5 points, while Robert Wilder contributed 2. Evka Baniulis was scoreless in limited action.

Senior night can be about celebrating the past four years of a player's career, but it can also be about looking forward. Despite dropping their sixth straight game, the Gamecocks can be excited about the future of players like freshmen Ramon Galloway and Lakeem Jackson.

Galloway had a career high of 21 points, including a number of big 3-point baskets that helped the Gamecocks hold on to their lead. Jackson added 6 points and led the Gamecocks with 7 rebounds.

"The freshmen the last three games have shown you, specifically Lakeem Jackson and Ramon Galloway, have shown why we're behind them and excited about the future moving forward," added Horn. "Those are the kind of guys you want to move forward with."

The seniors will have one more try for a win in the regular season as they head to Nashville to take on Vanderbilt this Saturday. While the Gamecocks postseason aspirations are nearly dead at this point, it will be up to them to determine their future in the SEC Tournament.

No senior wants to walk off their home court for the final time on the wrong end of a score, but these Gamecock seniors will have to remember the positives they accomplished during their time at Carolina.

A senior night loss and a six game losing streak are weighing heavily on the USC basketball program, but Horn said his team will try to move on and make the most of the remaining season.

"Obviously it's frustrating, especially a game like tonight when you're home and come out like you want to," said Horn. "You have the chance to get the seniors a win at home and break the streak, but bottom line is in this game either you won or you lost. We didn't. The bigger challenge is moving forward."

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