The Gamecocks came up just short in their upset bid against the Tennessee Volunteers, losing to 73-69. The loss continues USC's utter futility against the Vols and likely eliminates the possibility of a berth for Carolina in the NIT, barring a run in the SEC Tournament, which I view as highly unlikely.
For me, there were three stories to come out of this game. The first was that I was somewhat pleased with some of the coaching decisions Darrin Horn made. Those of you who are regular readers know that I've roundly criticized the job Horn has done this season, but tonight I'd like to give credit where credit is due. Horn made some roster adjustments that I liked quite a bit, going with a big, two forwards and two centers lineup for large portions of the game. The strategy undoubtedly explains in large part how we snagged 18 offensive boards on the game, which is in one of the things that kept us in a game where the Vols shot the ball much better and got to the line much more frequently. I was also impressed by how often we attacked the basket and worked the post in the second half. Sam Muldrow, in particular, looked great with his back to basket, suggesting that maybe we should have used him in this role much more this season. Horn still drew my ire by giving Bruce Ellington too many minutes and letting him shoot too many threes, but I guess old habits die hard. We at least showed some progress on offense, which hadn't been the case in previous games.
The second story was the number of mental mistakes and bumbled plays Carolina made in this game. We missed several easy fastbreak layups and, even more costingly, really dropped the ball on numerous defensive plays. We allowed several easy fast break baskets, uncontested dunks, and committed needless fouls on some of these plays. I guess you can chalk that up to an inexperienced team.
The last story was the officiating. Tennessee shot 34 foul shots to Carolina's 13. Some might chalk that up Carolina's lack of interior offensive play, but Carolina actually did work around the basket for a change. I chalk it up to unconsciously biased, inept officiating, plain and simple. The vast majority of the fouls against Carolina were either off-ball, touch fouls in the backcourt, or on rebounds; in other words, ticky-tacky stuff. Tennessee didn't have to deal with the same standard, routinely mauling our players under the basket and getting away with it. Oh, well. It's not like SEC basketball officiating has even the faintest scent of credibility.
That's a wrap on tonight. Mississippi St. is up this weekend. It would definitely be nice to see us take that one to ensure a .500 or above finish, at least.