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December 23, 2010

USC-Furman Hoops Extra

GREENVILLE - Looking back on it, it's easy to see why.

"We did not defend and rebound in a way that would give us an opportunity to beat a team that played as well as Furman did," coach Darrin Horn said. "We have games where we don't defend and rebound, and don't get much out of our interior, especially somebody as important as Sam Muldrow, it's going to be hard for us to beat good teams."

South Carolina's chances of success are built on three steps. One, be solid on defense and at least equal the opponent in rebounding, if not coming out ahead. Two, win every hustle play. Three, the offense needs to go in first, then out so that everybody has a chance to contribute, because there is no one go-to scorer.

In Wednesday's 91-75 loss at Furman, the Gamecocks failed at all three.

USC was out-rebounded 44-26 by the Paladins, a team whose tallest players were 6-foot-9. The Gamecocks were only out-rebounded 44-35 by No. 2 Ohio State, a team whose smallest starter was 6-5.

Furman found every loose ball, broke almost every press and made every extra pass. USC couldn't find the open men to guard and gave up a 52.6 percent shooting night.

Muldrow was nearly mute, with six points, two rebounds and four fouls, while fellow posts Lakeem Jackson and Malik Cooke were equally silent. The trio combined for 14 points and 13 boards, and as against the Buckeyes, the guards locked up and had to take hurried shots when they couldn't bounce the ball inside.

Bruce Ellington scored a game-high 31 points but despite channeling his inner Downey, couldn't get enough help. The Gamecocks cut it to three a couple of times, and had it at a manageable seven with 1:45 to go, but three layups keyed by two USC turnovers and one broken defensive assignment made the deficit 13 in a scant 14 seconds.

"We've just got to work on getting better going inside," Ellington said. "Get the ball inside to Big Sam, let him do his thing, then kick it out."

Muldrow took some of the blame, saying he didn't play very well, but said it was also a team-wide issue.

"We played great offensively, there were just things we didn't do on the defensive end," he said.

VICTIMIZED: The Gamecocks (7-3) began pressing early in the second half and it began to pay off. Furman (8-2) was caught in two 10-second violations and often when it broke the press, was taking rushed shots and letting USC fly past for the rebound.

But there were those other times that really stung.

It's a fact of the press - it may work on trapping the ball, but if the opponent breaks it, that means there's a wide-open man somewhere. Furman kept wiggling out of those situations, USC would be caught a man down and have to hack somebody to prevent an easy shot.

Most of the time, the hack-ee was Furman's Amu Saaka, who was hit several times when he was attempting to dunk from the elbow. It was fine with him - no dunks went down but several layups did, and he set a school record by going a perfect 14-of-14 from the line.

Then there were the other times, like when Stephen Spinella and Jackson had Darryl Evans trapped in the corner beside USC's bench. Despite the four arms in his face, about to fall out-of-bounds and everybody on the Gamecocks' sideline screaming at him, Evans leaped, threw to the other corner and saw Jordan Miller sink a wide-open 3-pointer.

"We put ourselves in a position where we had to press, and it was the only reason we were able to get back in it," Horn said. "When you do that, you're going to give up a few easy ones. The problem was we dug ourselves too big a hole."

WHO?: Senior Justin Dehm was averaging 4.4 points per game. He'd made three 3-pointers over his last four games.

In the first half on Wednesday, he stroked five, on five attempts. Dehm finished with those 15 points after hardly playing in the second half.

STATES LINED: Another smack to the face after the game - Furman's Noah States, the team's second-leading scorer, didn't play.

States suffered a groin pull and missed the Paladins' last game, but was slated to re-join the starting lineup against USC. He didn't, Colin Reddick taking his place and scoring six points with six rebounds.

OUCH: Furman beat the Gamecocks for the first time in 30 years. It wasn't as bad as the last lengthy streak that was broken - last year, Wofford beat USC for the first time in 70 years.

BENCH STRENGTH: Because he is not on scholarship, redshirting junior Murphy Holloway would have to provide his own travel if he wanted to come to the game. Holloway did both, showing up well before the tip to talk to his teammates and wish them well. He also helped rebound during shootaround and was allowed to sit on the bench.

Once the block on Holloway's transfer from Ole Miss runs out (at the end of the school year), he will be allowed to be placed on scholarship. He is expected to fill out the open scholarships for 2011-12 along with incoming freshmen Anthony Gill and Damien Leonard.

BREAK IT DOWN: The Gamecocks are off for the holidays, although Ellington said he encouraged every one of his teammates to spend their break in the gym. USC is scheduled to practice in Columbia on Sunday and will host Jacksonville State on Dec. 29.

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