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February 20, 2009

Homeward Bound -- At Last

It's no surprise that teams want to play at home. Crowd in your corner, familiar shooting spots, record of success.

At South Carolina, there might be a vote taken in the near future to play all games at home, no matter what the schedule requires.

"They got open looks, they beat us on the glass, they beat us to loose balls, they did all the little things that you have to do to win basketball games, especially this time of year," croaked a virus-ridden coach Darrin Horn, following the Gamecocks' 75-70 loss to Mississippi State on Wednesday.

He was plenty sick before and during the game, a stomach bug sapping his normal sideline demeanor. No one blamed him for cutting the post-game session after a few questions and getting back to the bus.

More importantly, getting back to Columbia. That's where bed rest and two straight home games waited.

USC didn't play badly at MSU, but it was still another SEC road loss. The Gamecocks regressed to 2-4 on the league road this year.

They're 5-0 at Colonial Life Arena. Asked how much he was looking forward to getting home, guard Devan Downey couldn't hold back.

"It will be real good," he said, before recovering. "But we've got to correct our defense. Don't matter where we play, we've got to correct our defense."

Shoddy 3-point defense in the late stages contributed to the MSU loss, but there were several other problems. Free-throw shooting (again), foul trouble on Mike Holmes and Sam Muldrow and 16 turnovers all played their parts.

Viewed as a complete package, though, and compared to the rest of the season, it was just another road game. USC can't seem to find a consistent offensive approach on the road.

During the last two games, the Gamecocks met or exceeded their past performances at hostile arenas. They were averaging 40.8 percent at Alabama's Coleman Coliseum since they joined the league; they shot 41.5. They were shooting 41.9 percent at MSU's Humphrey Coliseum; they matched it on Wednesday.

But the specifics ended up being a couple of key factors. One, their 3-point shooting, a bright spot all year, was horrendous for the second straight game. A 5-of-21 performance was enough to win at Alabama but 5-for-17 at MSU sure didn't.

Second, Downey hit his scoring averages, with 18 and 19 points in the last two games. He was 6-of-20 and 7-of-21 while doing it.

When the best player is having trouble scoring, the rest of the team follows suit. There was no specific reason for it or the 3-point -- it just seemed to be in that same category of a road game.

USC returns home to host Arkansas on Saturday and Kentucky on Wednesday. There are two more road trips in the regular season, but first comes the chance to heal another gaping road wound at home.

"I think we're happy to be at home," said assistant coach Scott Cherry, filling in for Horn on Thursday's coaches teleconference. "We've been on the road for the last two. Just looking forward to playing and rebounding after a loss to Mississippi State."

No better place than at home.



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