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November 14, 2008Hmmmmm.
The first game of the Darrin Horn era at South Carolina could be viewed a few ways.
On one hand, USC won on Friday, 89-76 over a Jacksonville State team whose speed was comparable to the home team.
On the other -- severe foul trouble, losing the rebounding battle, an ill-timed technical and what could be a devastating injury to a starter.
Back to that first hand ...
Mike Holmes and Zam Fredrick each scored 17 points to lead USC, Holmes also contributing seven rebounds, four blocks and two steals as USC's depth was constantly questioned. The big sophomore was gasping by the end but managed to hold on, combining with five others in double figures.
Fredrick fouled out, sparkplug Devan Downey was forced to miss chunks of the game with foul trouble, including a technical, and Jacksonville State (0-1) controlled most of the interior in the second half.
And starting guard Brandis Raley-Ross landed awkwardly with 32.3 seconds remaining in the first half, clutching his left knee and staying down while trainers attended to him. The junior, who missed two games and 100 percent performance in a sheaf of others after spraining the same knee last year, was taken out of Colonial Life Arena in a wheelchair.
A case where all of the bad news came pretty close to unseating the good.
"We saw some good things that we liked, also some things we didn't like so much, especially in the second half," Horn said. "Obviously we have some growing to do in the areas of clock management and understanding what we need to do in game situations. Also faced some adversity tonight. We still found a way to finish the game out, so we'll definitely take that."
The official report on Friday was that Raley-Ross had a left knee injury and would be re-evaluated on Saturday. He was spotted outside of the arena on crutches with his left leg heavily wrapped. If it's as nasty as it looked -- he couldn't put any weight on the leg, plus he never returned to even sit on the bench -- USC could be facing the rest of the season with a 10-man team, nine if Sam Muldrow's academic troubles continue to bench him.
Holmes was also dinged up, which was why he wasn't available afterwards, but his injury isn't expected to be serious.
"We all have to step up," Fredrick said. "Whoever it might be. We hope Ross is healthy and that he gets back as fast as he can, but we're all just going to have to pull together tighter and just work harder.
"Not to say that we don't love Ross and we're not going to miss him, but if he's out for a while, the season still goes on."
USC got an early taste of just how thin its bench is. With Raley-Ross gone and Downey and Fredrick facing four fouls each, Branden Conrad and Robert Wilder had to play extensive minutes. Conrad scored four points in 23 minutes while Wilder played nine minutes.
With all three of its starting guards out of the game or facing foul trouble, USC found a way to repel a Jacksonville State charge. When a 20-point lead was whittled to 72-59 with 10:16 to play, JSU was pumped and USC was gassed.
Holmes barreled in for four quick points and Austin Steed blocked another shot, part of a span where he scored four points and blocked two shots in four minutes. Evka Baniulis showed off some nifty drive-the-lane moves after last season was spent camping on the 3-point line, finishing with 11 points, and Dominique Archie was his reliable self with 13 points and a team-high nine rebounds.
The lead extended to as much as 21 before USC could relax, milking clock instead of going for a quick shot. The strategy kept JSU out of its trapping defense as USC switched it on and off, until the game was safely in hand.
When it was over, the players gathered in the locker room and marked one win off the list. Fredrick said there were no special celebrations for Horn's first win, just a casual attitude and a few pats on the back.
"It's all business for us," he said. "We're happy to get the first one under our belt; we're ready to go on Sunday."
Several problems to fix, but nothing major. The rebounding may be a constant fixer-upper throughout the year and the depth isn't going to get any better, unless Horn can find a few walk-ons floating around campus.
Still, problems are always easier to fix with a win in hand.
"I feel like we could have played harder as a team, especially in the second half," Downey said. "But overall, I was pleased with the effort. We just got to be smarter and stay on the court."