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Gamecock men hang in there, but fall 86-76 to No. 5 Kentucky

Close(ish), but no cigar.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at South Carolina Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

The South Carolina Gamecocks entered Tuesday night’s contest against fifth-ranked Kentucky after suffering a drubbing against Tennessee, but with some measure of hope: The Wildcats had lost their last two games in Columbia despite coming in with vastly superior teams, so USC theoretically had a chance to channel some of that mojo again.

Unfortunately, despite a spirited effort that saw the Gamecocks down just 39-34 at the half and tie the game at 43 with 15 minutes remaining, the Wildcats finally put it into gear and put any thoughts of an upset to rest with a dominance-asserting 15-2 run to move the game out of reach.

Keyshawn Bryant, who had seen his minutes mysteriously limited of late, broke out for the Gamecocks, leading South Carolina with 18 points and 14 rebounds in a strong showing characteristic of his star status. Wildens Leveque set a career high with 16 points, and Jermaine Couisnard matched one with 17.

While the Gamecocks harassed the Wildcats into 16 turnovers, Kentucky shot a season-best 56.7 percent against South Carolina, and also bullied the Gamecocks in the paint with 46 points to 38, while racing past the Gamecocks in transition as well (26-17).

South Carolina falls to 13-10 (4-7 SEC), and if there were any dim hopes left of an NCAA Tournament bid, they’ve certainly flown the coop by now. This has effectively been a lame-duck season from the start for coach Frank Martin, so if Ray Tanner hasn’t already started doing his due diligence behind the scenes for a replacement, this program will be staring down even bigger problems.

The Gamecocks next travel to Georgia (6-7, 1-9 SEC) on Saturday, where they’ll aim to bounce back and continue their impressive 11-game winning streak against the Bulldogs.