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South Carolina’s loss to Clemson is a big step back

The Gamecocks had a chance to assert themselves in this latest chapter of the rivalry. They didn’t.

NCAA Basketball: Clemson at South Carolina
Yep, this pretty much sums it up.
Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

No matter what they say, Clemson hasn't really cared about basketball since the days when Rick Barnes was publicly tweaking Dean Smith's nose (and kudos to Barnes; this was at a time when USC's Eddie Fogler was doing everything in his power not to even play UNC when our fans wanted to test ourselves against the Heels). Really, I'm positive I could name all the CU head coaches from Bill Foster to Brad Brownell - which is something I doubt the majority of the denizens at STS or the Esso Club could match. I'd lay good money most of the Paw People have no idea who Press Maravich was except that his last name sounds awful similar to the guy who played at LSU. For most Clemson fans, Tree Rollins would be better known had he worn a leather helmet instead of short-shorts.

Oh, they're happy to beat us on the court because its us. Any win will please them because they want to beat us in everything - which is proper, since that's what a rivalry is all about. They will crow around the water cooler this morning and they have every right. They won. They beat us in football, baseball and, yes, basketball.

But if we had won last night, they'd be yawning and repeating "56-7" over and over. They just don't care about roundball, never really have, never really will. Even when Ollie Purnell duplicated Barnes' feat of three-straight NCAA trips there was never much excitement in Pickens County and they loved Barnes more for standing up to Smith than anything. After all, Clemson is a program that has never won a hoops game at Chapel Hill, never won an ACC Tournament (only played in the final game once, in '62) and if I am not mistaken has a losing series record on the hardcourt against every ACC foe, past and present (with the possible exception of Miami) - mostly by huge, lopsided margins.

Now for our part, we care about hoops - or we're supposed to care. Where Tiger High has dominated us on the gridiron, traditionally we owned them on the hardcourt. Where CU tends to hire guys who've had middlin' success in regional mid-majors, USC mostly has gone after and hired bigger names - McGuire, Foster, Fogler and even Davey "War Chest" Odom (yes, notwithstanding Darrin Horn and Steve Newton). Frank Martin is part of that tradition.

And yet when its all said and done, the school in Pickens County that doesn't care about roundball has outperformed us in the basketball arena since the dawn of the new millenium. Frank Martin was supposed to change that and last night should have been the time to put them to bed without supper. For the next decade.

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

But here we are, the next morning after losing 62-60 to the Tigers at the Colonial Life Arena and I'm pissed. I want to blame someone. The Tigers not only feasted last night, but it’s crepes and eggs benedict for breakfast up in Tiger Town.

I'm not taking away from the Tigers. I think I gave a fair preview. I said they were a good, gritty and well-matched team for us - and they were all those things. I predicted CU might have a half-time lead (and they did, 29-25). I projected CU's Sr. F Jaron Blossomgame having a strong night (he did - 34' and a double-double of 15 points and 10 rebounds, marred only by 0-4 from three point range). I said to match him, USC would need both Silva and Kotsar to each score 10+, and they did, plus they delivered 12 combined boards.

I felt confident we'd hold them under their +70 ppg season average (and we did). I thought Clemson would hang with us deep into the second (and they did - the first time we had a 4 point lead in the 2nd was 54-50 in at 4:10). The only thing I got wrong was that I felt we'd pull away at the end and equal our season points per game average - if you'd put a gun to my head I would have thought a 6-9 point USC win, 72-64.

Even at 1:44 when Dozier laid it in to make it 58-55 I felt like we'd gut it out. But Guey's foul to send Clemson's Marcquise Reed to the line for 2 critical FTs to give them a 59-58 lead, followed by three missed USC 3-point attempts (Gravett, McKie and Dozier) was crushing. It was as an exciting a final :30 as you could ask for but not pretty hoops. So what went wrong? Why didn't we pull away?

The obvious thing is No. 0 wasn't in the game. More on that later.

For the guys who did suit up, you can point to Duane Notice and Justin McKie who managed to coordinate a rare joint disappearing act - going 1-9 and 1-5 in FGs, 0-5 and 0-3 from the arc, in 36' and 30' respectively, and effectively spoiling a career night for P.J. Dozier who recorded 26 points.

We're not going to beat anyone good with Thorn suspended and Notice and McKie jointly combining for 7 points and 7 rebounds in his place. Gravett going 1-4 from the floor (0-2 from 3) didn't help, either. None of those guys should have had the ball at the end.

I thought our guard play would neutralize Clemson, but it ended up neutralizing the Garnet and Black. Give kudos to our frontcourt - they did their job. Dozier did his job, too - more than his job. The rest of his battery mates flopped. Clemson wins.

Whatever Thornwell did to get himself suspended, it pisses me off. With Thornwell playing, USC should be 11-0, and ranked in the top 15 in both polls with a RPI in the mid-20s.

Now we are 9-2, we will fall out of the polls and our RPI will drop down to the 40s. If you're sure that Carolina is a lock for the NCAA's still, then you're a more optimistic fan than me. All the momentum after Michigan and Syracuse has been squandered.

I'm not sure why Frank Martin won't level with us about the cause and duration of Thornwell's suspension. But for all the fault that lies with Sindarius, I can't shake the feeling this loss is on Coach Martin.

It was Martin who publicly soft-peddled this rivalry game. It was Martin whose team could not separate. It was Martin who didn't seem to understand that Carolina Nation really needed this win to salve some pride following the humiliation on the football field. It's Martin who won't come clean about why he has suspended our best player. It is Martin who is in his fifth season and has precisely one post-season win and one post-season appearance to show for the millions we are paying. And, yes, it is Martin who loves to opine about world and national issues, but seems to have a squad that can't keep it focused week in and week out.

No, I'm not saying anything other than I am mad right now. I know Horn left our program buried at the bottom of a gaping, Soviet-style, 1 mile deep, uranium mining pit and it's Martin who is excavating us from underneath the cellar. I was patient through the first three years that Martin had to grind just to get a team assembled and I felt we got dissed in 2015-2016 but we had only ourselves to blame for losing three in a row to the mediocre UGA Bulldogs. I feel we should easily surpass the 20 win plateau again, but a SEC team needs a minimum of 25-26 wins to make the NCAA field (as last year amply demonstrated). Losing to CU just took us back a huge step. I want us to succeed. We still have a reasonable expectation to meet reasonable season goals.

But dammit we need to get it together. Now.