The season hardly ended on an upbeat note for South Carolina with losses in seven of the last eight games, including a one-and-done appearance in the SEC tournament.
But it could have been worse.
The Gamecocks could have written off the season in late November when they lost starting forward Dominique Archie, a fixture in a starting role for the three previous years, with a season-ending knee injury.
If not then, then shortly afterward when veteran forward Mike Holmes joined Archie on the sidelines after first being injured, then dismissed.
But the Gamecocks came back from that and fought back until in late January they upset then top-ranked Kentucky to even their SEC record at 3-3 and raise hopes of competing for a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
But not much went right after that.
Starting with a loss at Tennessee on Feb. 6, the Gamecocks won only one of their last seven SEC games of the regular season to go into the conference tourney needing to win at least two games to finish over .500.
Instead, they lost to Alabama and ended up 15-16, their third losing record in the last four years.
But coach Darrin Horn, whose Gamecocks were the surprise of the league when they finished 21-10 last year in his first season, took some solace from the fact that the team wasn't an easy out.
"We put ourselves in a position to compete every night," he told the Greenville News. "Ultimately to me, that's what builds a program. As you get talent in, as you get experience, as you get depth, then some things become easier."
The question now is how the Gamecocks will fare without guard Devan Downey to rely on.
They have some key returnees in forward Sam Muldrow and freshmen Ramon Galloway and Lakeem Jackson, as well as senior big man Johndre Jefferson, but Downey and departing guard Brandis Raley-Ross accounted for 34 points a game, almost half of the team's scoring output.
FINAL RECORD: 15-16, 6-10, 5th place in the SEC Eastern Division.
WHAT WENT RIGHT: The Gamecocks gave Kentucky its first defeat of the season when Devan Downey scored 30 points and Brandis Raley-Ross added 17 in a 68-62 upset. That gave South Carolina a 12-6 record and evened the Gamecocks' SEC mark at 3-3. The Gamecocks followed that with two wins in the next three games to improve to 5-4 in the conference.
The Gamecocks ended up leading the league in steals in the regular season with an averaging of 8.7 per game, led by Downey's 2.8 average.
WHAT WENT WRONG: The season took an early hit when senior F Dominique Archie, who had started every game in his career, when down with a season-ending knee injury in November. Not long after that, F Mike Holmes went out with a facial injury and later was dismissed from the team. Those losses left the Gamecocks fighting with a short stick inside, and they finished last in the league in rebounding margin (minus-6.1 per game) in conference play. They also struggled in the shooting, hitting only 42 percent from the field in the regular season. The Gamecocks lost six games in a row down the stretch before beating Vanderbilt in the regular-season finale to escape the Eastern Division basement.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's seemed like a roller-coaster ride, a lot of highs and a lot of lows. It sucks to end it this way, but you've just got to move on in life." -- Senior G Brandis Raley-Ross, in the Columbia State, after the season-ending loss to Alabama in the SEC tournament.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THE GOOD NEWS: South Carolina has an outstanding recruiting class coming in headed by four-star prospects Bruce Ellington, a point guard out of Moncks Corner, S.C., and Damontre Harris, a 6-9 power forward from Fayetteville, N.C. Other fall signees were three-star prospects (Rivals.com) Brian Richardson, a shooting guard from Wilson, N.C.; R.J. Slawson, another power forward from North Charleston, S.C., and Eric Smith, a point guard who hails from Mullins, SC.
F Sam Muldrow emerged as one of the SEC's top defenders, and F Lakeem Jackson, G Ramon Galloway, and F Johnde Jefferson all gained starting experience as freshmen.
THE BAD NEWS: The loss of Devan Downey and Brandis Raley-Ross takes 34 points a game away, which is asking a lot for newcomers to pick up. F Dominique Archie is petitioning for another year of eligibility after appearing in only five games, but he sat out his first season as a redshirt so that's not a guarantee.
The Commodore also are in the same division with Kentucky, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, and Florida, which doesn't leave much room at the top.
KEY RETURNEES: F Sam Muldrow is the top returning scorer (10.4) and rebounder (6.2) in addition to being a shot-blocking threat inside. F Austin Steed had 11 starts and will be back for his senior season, but he produced only 2.9 points and 2.9 rebounds a game. Freshman F Lakeem Jackson started 30 games and averaged 7.2 points and 5.0 rebounds an outing while shooting 50.5 percent from the field. G Ramon Galloway, F Johndre Jefferson, and G Stephen Spinella also showed promise in their first collegiate seasons.
--G Devan Downey was a unanimous pick of league coaches as a first-team all-SEC selection. His 26.2 ppg average in conference games was the highest in the league since LSU's Shaquille O'Neal averaged 27.6 in conference games in 1991. Downey also was named to the league's All-Defensive team after averaging 2.8 steals a game in the regular season.
--F Sam Muldrow was picked for the SEC's All-Defensive team. He averaged 3.1 blocked shots a game, second to Mississippi State's Jarvis Varnado's 4.8 average in the regular season.
--Freshman F Lakeem Jackson needs to work on his free throw shooting in the offseason. He was only 3-for-22 from the free-throw line in 16 SEC games in the regular season.
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