NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The game's great equalizer, the 3-point shot, has brought a new dimension since it was introduced. A team can afford to have the one specialized shooter on the floor - a guy who can disrupt the defense because he can't be left unguarded.
With no dependable driver after playing half the year without its point guard, and its best big man great on defense but learning on offense, South Carolina knew it would have to try and score this year from the 3-point line. Hit 'em, and you're a pretty good team, a dangerous team. Miss 'em, and be bad.
Wednesday was another example of how USC (10-17, 2-11 SEC) may get a few wins at the end of the season, but it's a bad year that is only getting worse. They want to hit 3-pointers and can't do it, and there are no other consistent options to score.
The Gamecocks were 8-of-23 from the 3-point line in Wednesday's 59-48 loss at Vanderbilt, making 4-of-10 in the first half but 4-of-13 in the second when they tried to shoot themselves out of their slump. Bruce Ellington made three and Malik Cooke made two, but the man most entrusted to make them - freshman Damien Leonard - made a mere two in 10 attempts.
Leonard had several open looks and clanked them, but made one with a hand in his face. For the season, he's missed nearly 100 more than he's made (45-of-142).
The team's other outside shooter, Brian Richardson, didn't play for the fourth straight game. He is 13-of-56 for the season.
The Gamecocks entered the game ninth in the league in 3-point shooting percentage, at .298. They are one of four teams in the SEC that shoot below 30 percent from long range.
DOCKED: Sophomore Damontre Harris did not start due to an academic issue. Harris did play, but redshirt freshman Carlton Geathers made his first career start in Harris' place.
A team spokesperson said that Harris' benching was a team academic issue, not a school academic issue. The Gamecock Radio Network quoted Horn as saying, "We've got standards in our program that we think are extremely important to uphold. I think Damontre understands that now."
Geathers did well, scoring two points on a put-back and grabbing a pair of rebounds while getting Festus Ezeli into early foul trouble. Then Harris came in, took a feed underneath and rammed it home for his only first-half points.
Harris ended with six points, six rebounds and four blocks. Geathers played eight minutes.
"I played all right," Geathers said. "I could have played better. I gave up a couple of rebounds I could have had."
Geathers, a 6-foot-10 project that redshirted last year, is night and day in terms of his physical appearance. He's still learning how to play back-to-the-basket, but has gotten into 24 games this year.
"I got a lot better," Geathers said. "The sky's the limit for me, I guess."
Horn's team pulled down the second-highest grade-point average on record for the program in the fall semester. Horn said that it would have been the highest if Ellington's 3.1 GPA would have been allowed to count for hoops, but because he was on scholarship for football, it counted toward that.
WOUNDED:Anthony Gill had his right thumb taped before the game. A team official said that he ran into somebody at practice.
Gill scored two points and had two rebounds with four fouls in 23 minutes.
JUST MISSED:Brenton Williams' 3-pointer in the waning minutes gave USC 48 points, which was its final total. Before the shot bottomed, the Gamecocks were about to set a tenure-low for points scored under Horn.
The low is 47 in a 57-47 loss to Alabama in 2010-11. The 48 was a season-low.
GETTING CLOSER: At 10-17 with three regular-season games and the SEC tournament to go, USC is getting close to a 20-loss season. The last USC team to do it was Eddie Fogler's 8-21 bunch in 1998-99, the senior year of all-time leading scorer BJ McKie and the year immediately following back-to-back NCAA tournament trips.
Before that, one has to go to Walt Hambrick in 1958-59 (4-20) to find a 20-loss team. There was one more, in 1937-38, under Ted Petoskey (3-21).