DELAWARE STATE HORNETS (2-2) at SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS (4-1) When: 7 p.m. today Where: Colonial Life Arena, Columbia TV: Fox Sports Carolinas Tickets: Available at the box office Delaware State's probable starters: G Jay Threatt 5-11 Jr. (9.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg); G Desmond Washington 6-2 Fr. (13.8 ppg, 1.0 rpg); F Terron Stowe 6-3 Sr. (5.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg); F Casey Walker 6-4 Fr. (13.8 ppg, 3.0 rpg); F Marques Oliver 6-7 So. (9.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg) South Carolina's probable starters: G Bruce Ellington 5-9 Fr. (13.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg); G Brian Richardson 6-4 Fr. (8.4 ppg, 2.8 rpg); F Lakeem Jackson 6-5 So. (10.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg); F Malik Cooke 6-6 Jr. (9.2 ppg, 9.4 rpg); C Sam Muldrow 6-9 Sr. (9.0 ppg, 5.2 rpg) Notes: South Carolina returns home for the start of a three-game stretch after a thrilling double-overtime win at Western Kentucky. ... The first meeting between the two schools. ... A day-night doubleheader for USC basketball. The women host Charleston Southern at 11 a.m. today while the men play at 7 p.m. ... Guard Ramon Galloway has led the team in scoring for each of the past two games and poured in a career-high 22 against the Hilltoppers. ... The Hornets are shooting 43.5 percent from 3-point range. ... USC is 18-1 all-time against the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, with 16 wins coming against S.C. State. The lone loss was one of the most agonizing in school history -- to Coppin State in the first round of the 1997 NCAA tournament. Next game: South Carolina hosts Clemson at 4 p.m. on Sunday.
"Honestly, he needs to play better or he'll be playing less," South Carolina coach Darrin Horn said two weeks ago. "We need him to be at his best."
The Gamecocks' senior center reverted to form against Western Kentucky four days ago, scoring 10 points with nine rebounds while blocking four shots. While Ramon Galloway and Bruce Ellington lit up the scoring charts and hit many of the big shots so USC could outlast the Hilltoppers in double overtime, Muldrow was also in effect.
Muldrow rebounded his own miss and tied the game in the first overtime to force the second extra period. He was his usual ferocious self in the paint, banging around with WKU's talented posts for boards, and got his shooting touch back with a couple of nifty baby hooks.
USC (4-1) got a huge road win -- which was extra nice since it came over Horn's alma mater -- and saw a trend it hopes will continue. Muldrow is usually the first offensive option when USC comes down the court, and the Gamecocks need him to be a leader; his season-opener was grand but until WKU, Muldrow had slipped.
"I needed to get better on defense and rebounding," Muldrow said. "That's what I focused on to start and it helped with my offense."
After scoring 20 with four rebounds against Elon, Muldrow had 15 points and 13 rebounds combined in his next three games. He wasn't being aggressive enough when he got the ball on the post, and while he was contributing to the rebounding battles -- USC has yet to lose a rebound game all year -- he was being out-performed by his teammates.
Horn, who joked earlier in the year that he was "encouraging" some of his players rather often, didn't holler or scream at the senior. He left it up to Muldrow to improve by challenging him without belittling him.
"I think it was us reminding him of what he's done for this team and how he's played, and I think it was him recognizing he wasn't playing and contributing in the way that was best for him to do his best, and best to help our team," Horn said. "Normally, that is the case for seniors. I thought he brought us incredible presence and poise on the road and in the game."
Muldrow was not good in the first half but turned it on in the second against WKU, playing consistent basketball for the first time since Elon. The Gamecocks began to hit their shots and force WKU into their game, one of the things they have to do this year if they're going to be successful.
The quiet man of the team, Muldrow simply shrugged.
"A lot of it was just waiting for the rebound and then making my shot when I had to," he said.
But the spark bled into the rest of the Gamecocks. "He really helped us out," Galloway said, "but we always knew he was going to do that."
"Man, he made some huge plays down the stretch," Horn marveled. "And I thought he made a block on a big play that really changed the entire momentum of the game in the second half."
Muldrow should start again when Delaware State (2-2) visits USC tonight, hoping to continue his strong second half from WKU against the Hornets. The Gamecocks are in the middle of a tough a stretch, about to play three straight teams coming off NCAA tournament trips last year (Clemson, Wofford and Ohio State, which is ranked second in the country).
They could use their senior force in the lane. Can he keep it up?