February 29, 2012; Columbia, SC, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks forward Anthony Gill (13) shoots over Mississippi State Bulldogs forward Renardo Sidney (1) in the first half at Colonial-Life Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Blake-US PRESSWIRE
I had high hopes for last night's game. I really did. Mississippi St. came into the game in the midst of a five-game losing streak and was banged up. It was senior night, so one could assume that the guys would be fired up. And indeed, Carolina played about as close to an inspired game as you could expect from an 18-loss team. The Gamecocks came up with big defensive stops and made big shots throughout the game. The 39.4 FG% looks bad on the face of it, but then you have to remember that we've averaged less than that in recent weeks. The 10-24 from long range is actually pretty decent, and is the kind of performance that might have kept us in a few games earlier in the season. In short, it wasn't a terrible performance from Carolina, even if it included some of the typical sloppy offensive play.
Then, after a hard-fought overtime period, disaster struck. The game tied, Bruce Ellington stripped Dee Bost on what might have been MSU's final possession of the period, but his foot was out of bounds, giving the Bulldogs an in-bounds play with less than two seconds left. MSU caught Damien Leonard confused on the play and found Brian Bryant for an easy lay-in to win the game.
This play more or less sums up the futility that was the 2011-2012 South Carolina basketball season. Even though we had a timeout before the play, we still got caught sleeping. How does that happen at this point in the year? Damien Leonard is young, but this is a kid with talent, and he's not a rookie anymore. This is far past the point in the season when you can chalk these things up to freshman errors. This play should have never happened; the game should have gone to a second overtime, or, at worst, MSU makes a prayer. That would have sucked, but I think I could have accepted it. That's not what happened, though. This group of Gamecocks simply have not lived up to their potential this year. Indeed, they don't look like they know what they're doing half the time. This play was a prime example. It wasn't the only thing bad play of the night, but like no other, it seemed to capture the confusion that is South Carolina basketball right now.
And the truth is that there is talent out there. Ellington, Leonard, Damontre Harris, and Anthony Gill were all four-star prospects, as was Lakeem Jackson. Malik Cooke has grown into an excellent player. R.J. Slawson was a South Carolina prep Player of the Year. These are guys who might have ended up anywhere in the SEC, with the exceptions of Florida and Kentucky. Yes, they're young. But young isn't the problem here. Young isn't what makes Gill miss routine lay-ins. It isn't what makes Leonard lose his man on the in-bounds. You might say the problem is that these guys were just misses out of high school. But all of them? It just doesn't make sense.
I'm not sure what it is, but there's simply something missing with this group. It's not lack of "identity," and it's not lack of effort. These guys are playing hard, and they seem to care about each other as a team. I guess you would just say it's an unfocused team. It's hard to know how exactly that relates to coach. At the end of the day, though, the guy at the top gets the blame.