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December 17, 2010SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS (7-1)
NO. 2 OHIO STATE BUCKEYES (9-0)
When: 2 p.m. today
Where: Value City Arena, Columbus, Ohio
Tickets: Available at the box office
South Carolina's probable starters: G Bruce Ellington 5-9 Fr. (13.4 ppg, 3.5 rpg); G Brian Richardson 6-4 Fr. (8.5 ppg, 2.3 rpg); F Lakeem Jackson 6-5 So. (9.8 ppg, 6.5 rpg); F Malik Cooke 6-6 Jr. (9.4 ppg, 7.8 rpg); C Sam Muldrow 6-9 Sr. (9.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg)
Ohio State's probable starters: G William Buford 6.5 Jr. (12.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg); G Jon Diebler 6-6 Sr. (13.2 ppg, 2.0 rpg); G/F David Lighty 6-5 Sr. (11.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg); F Jared Sullinger 6-9 Fr. (17.2 ppg, 8.6 rpg); F Dallas Lauderdale 6-8 Sr. (5.1 ppg, 5.2 rpg)
Notes: South Carolina returns from another lengthy break, playing just its second game in 12 days. The Gamecocks are 1-1 on the road so far this season, losing at Michigan State and beating Western Kentucky in double overtime. Coach Darrin Horn is 8-16 on the road at USC, the 16 a significant chunk of his 27 losses at the school. The all-time series is tied at 1, with the Gamecocks winning the inaugural meeting in 1988 and Ohio State winning the 1989 rematch. USC assistant coach Orlando Early worked with Ohio State coach Thad Matta when the two were assistants at Western Carolina in 1995-96. Muldrow has averaged 3.8 blocks over his last four games. Sullinger has already been named Big Ten Freshman of the Week four times. The Gamecocks' six-game winning streak is their longest under Horn.
Next game: South Carolina tips off at Furman at 7 p.m. on Wednesday.
South Carolina certainly respects today's opponent, No. 2 Ohio State, but isn't intimidated by the ranking, the road arena or the exploits of perhaps the nation's best freshman (or player), forward Jared Sullinger. The Gamecocks, young as they are, have been in two hostile arenas already this season, played the nation's No. 2 team (at the time) in one of them and are past the level of being so awed by their surroundings that they forget why they're there.
"We've practiced the same for Michigan State, Western Kentucky," sophomore forward Lakeem Jackson said. "We're taking this game as more of the same. There's been no fear."
Each of those were on the road, and the results were split. USC (7-1) fought against the Spartans, but lost by nine; the Gamecocks took the Hilltoppers to double overtime and won.
Now, going back to a Big Ten arena to play a No. 2 team that is a popular pick to nab a Final Four berth, some are thinking it's a repeat of Michigan State. Not so, Jackson and coach Darrin Horn say.
The Gamecocks didn't feel they were intimidated the first time they went on the road this season, and they don't feel that way now. The Buckeyes (9-0) are powerful, experienced and anxious to prove they belong - so does USC.
"Our guys knowing they have been to a No. 2 team in the country on national television to play, I think that part helps," Horn said. "Again, it comes down to basketball things."
The better team will win. USC wasn't content with a moral victory against the Spartans, and it didn't schedule Ohio State just to schedule Ohio State.
The Gamecocks want - and expect - to win. Their confidence is high after six straight wins, the longest streak of Horn's tenure, and after beating two recent NCAA tournament teams (WKU and Wofford), plus getting another win that happened to be over their archrival (Clemson), why not another?
"It's our team against their players," Jackson said. "We're a really good team, and when we play well, we can beat anybody in the country."
Playing well against Clemson and Wofford was necessary, and delivered. A large part was that the Gamecocks' post play was on its collective game from the tip, Sam Muldrow, Malik Cooke and backup Johndre Jefferson each came out aggressive and effective, establishing a part of USC's game besides the reliability on guard Bruce Ellington.
Against the Buckeyes, whose smallest starter is 6-foot-5, not backing down in the paint will be imperative. Sullinger is leading the team in scoring and rebounding and has lived up to the hype he carried with him from high school.
The Gamecocks will only be playing their second game in 12 days and should be fully rested. It's the first chance the team's first-years will get to prove that they have been able to handle days of downtime after exams and classes were completed.
"We're excited about the opportunity we have this weekend," Horn said. "As we've been saying for weeks, we, for years, really, we want to continue to build our program. I think games like this are the kind that help us do that."
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