Gamecocks suffer disappointing loss to Alabama in SEC tourney

Gamecocks suffer disappointing loss to Alabama in SEC tourney

Allen Sharpe photos

Jenny Dilworth photos

Nashville, TN. – South Carolina head coach Frank Martin felt good about his team's chances in the SEC Tournament when speaking to the media earlier this week. However, the Gamecocks just did not have it on Friday, March 10, in the quarterfinals against Alabama.

The Crimson Tide dominated the boards and the Gamecocks struggled from the field. That combination led to a 64-53 victory for Alabama at Bridgestone Arena that sent South Carolina home after one game in Nashville. 

"Alabama deserved to win today," Martin said. "They beat us to every loose ball (and) destroyed us on the glass. We were very noncompetitive in the effort plays. It was disappointing because that's been some of the things we've been good at all year. Credit to Alabama." 

Alabama held a 42-27 rebounding advantage over South Carolina, and the Gamecocks shot less than 37 percent from the field and made just 13-of-23 free throws.

"We just didn't make shots," senior Sindarius Thornwell said. "We got clean looks and didn't make them. We got to the free throw line, didn't make them. We got a lot of stuff that we wanted, we just didn't make shots." 

As expected, the contest was a highly-contested defensive battle to start. It took the Gamecocks nearly five minutes to score, but during that same stretch the Crimson Tide were only able to get two points.

PJ Dozier finally got the Gamecocks on the board when he grabbed a defensive rebound and drove the length of the court to finish with a layup. Rakym Felder had a nice kiss off the glass for a score that gave South Carolina an early 6-5 lead.

That was short-lived, however. Alabama scored three straight baskets to take an 11-6 lead before an unknown commodity came off the bench to help the Gamecocks.

Evan Hinson, who entered Friday's contest having played in just five regular-season games and with one basket to his credit, entered and immediately made a difference. 

He tipped in a missed South Carolina shot to cut the deficit down to three points, and a short while later, the freshman gave the Gamecocks the lead back with a nice drive and layup. 

The Crimson Tide would charge back, however, and a couple of Braxton Key threes gave Alabama a 21-16 lead. 

The freshman Felder stepped up to hit a big shot for the Gamecocks, pulling up from behind the three-point line to bury a trey and make it a two-point game with just under three minutes to play in the first half.

Thornwell would tie the game at 21 with a tough finish near the rim, but Alabama would get a layup by Avery Johnson Jr. and led the Gamecocks, 23-22, at halftime. 

Thornwell and Felder each had six points to lead South Carolina at the break, and the Gamecock bench did a good job of keeping South Carolina in the game as most of the starters struggled. The Gamecocks had 12 of their 22 points scored by bench players in the first half. 

South Carolina made 9-of-26 (34.6 percent) field goals in the first half while Alabama made 10-of-28 (35.7 percent). 

Alabama held an early 27-24 lead in the second half, but Thornwell stepped up to make his first 3-pointer of the game to tie things up. The Crimson Tide used baskets by Corban Collins and Bola Olaniyan to take a 31-27 lead at the under-16 media timeout. 

Two free throws by Dozier and a Felder layup tied things up once again, and the Gamecocks used their defense to take back the lead again. Felder knocked away an inbounds pass and Dozier finished on the other end with a dunk to put South Carolina up, 37-36. 

However, just like the leads prior to that, that one was short-lived. Riley Norris scored four quick points for the Crimson Tide, forcing Martin to call timeout with his team trailing by three with just under 12 minutes to play. 

Johnson Jr., who went off for 23 points in the regular-season meeting with the Gamecocks, nailed a 3-pointer to put Alabama up by four. The Crimson Tide would extend the lead out to six before South Carolina answered. 

Off an Alabama missed shot, Thornwell came down the court and pulled up for an important trey that made it a two-point game and snapped an offensive slump for the Gamecocks. 

Alabama's Riley Norris made a big three under pressure to once again made it a two-possession game. The junior came up big again just seconds later. The Crimson Tide fought for the offensive rebound, and it was kicked out to Norris at the top of the key, who drained another three to make it 52-47 Alabama.

Dozier stepped up a couple of minutes later to hit a big three of his own. That made it 52-51, but Norris answered again with a layup. 

Alabama would keep answering the Gamecocks, and it was able to come away with the win to make it to the semifinals.

Thornwell's 16 points led the Gamecocks while Dozier added 15 points and Felder 10. South Carolina made 18-of-49 (36.7 percent) field goals and Alabama made 22-of-49 (44.9 percent). 

South Carolina will now wait for Selection Sunday on March 12. The Gamecocks still have an RPI in the high 30s, and should safely be in the field.

"My feeling hasn't changed," Martin said when asked about NCAA Tournament outlook. "We lost to a good team. We didn't lose to a team with a 300 RPI. If one game on a neutral site against a very good opponent is going to outdo 12 conference wins and the wins we had in non-league play, then it is what it is." 

**Story by Kyle Heck/photo by Jenny Dilworth**