A day later, it still stung.
But there was nothing else to do but prepare for the next game, which will be in a postseason tournament for the first time since 2009.
“Get left out of the NCAA Tournament, it should hurt, because we invested a lot. So this is a great tool for all of us to learn from,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said on Monday. “I’m still not over it. But I can’t let the players know that.”
The Gamecocks open the NIT on Tuesday against High Point, which will complete a tornado of a two-day period. USC (24-8) was snubbed by the NCAA Tournament on Sunday night and barely had time to mourn its lost chance before the NIT bracket was released, featuring the Gamecocks as a top seed. Martin and his team talked about their wounded psyche, then pledged to regroup and try to finish the season as well as they can.
Despite the short turnaround and the hurt feelings still lurking, the Gamecocks say they’re ready. They didn’t want to discuss a popular sentiment around Columbia – they were shafted by the NCAA selection committee – instead saying it was all about the next step.
There’s a championship that’s still out there to be won. USC’s three seniors have one last shot at glory.
“There’s a lot of teams that don’t get the opportunity to play in the NIT, so we’re going to take advantage of it,” Sindarius Thornwell said. “If we’d of went out there and taken care of business, and did what we were supposed to do against certain teams, we wouldn’t be in this situation. We controlled it, so it’s not for us to blame anybody but ourselves.”
Thornwell, as he has all season, spoke for the team. Yes, USC thought it had done enough. No, it won’t affect their mental approach to the NIT.
“We were all disappointed when we didn’t see our name go up, but as far as being ready for the NIT, we’re approaching it as we still got a chance to win a championship,” he said. “None of us here has been in the postseason, so it’s an opportunity.”
The Panthers (21-10) also are a wounded team, losing in the Big South tournament after winning the regular season title. A big reason why they lost is because their best player, John Brown, hurt his foot. Without his 19.6 points and the 12.4 points from Adam Weary (knee), High Point fell in the tournament and settled for the NIT.
Coached by former USC assistant Scott Cherry (2008-09), the Panthers will play the Gamecocks for the first time. USC, dealing with its own injury to a star player (Michael Carrera, who remains questionable), said the gameplan is pretty simple – go play.
“That’s what you prepare for all season,” Thornwell said. “You watch as much film as you can in a day or so and go out and do what you do.”
NIT first round
Who: High Point (21-10) vs. USC (24-8)
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Colonial Life Arena
Tickets: Available at the box office
High Point’s probable starters: G Austin White 6-0 So. (4.5 ppg, 1.4 rpg); G Anthony Lindauer 6-3 Jr. (8.2 ppg, 3.0 rpg); G Haiishen McIntyre 6-2 Sr. (5.2 ppg, 2.5 rpg); F Miles Bowman 6-6 Jr. (7.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg); F Lorenzo Cugini 6-7 Sr. (10.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg)
South Carolina’s probable starters: G P.J. Dozier 6-6 Fr. (6.6 ppg, 3.0 rpg); G Sindarius Thornwell 6-5 Jr. (13.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg); G Duane Notice 6-2 Jr. (11.1 ppg, 2.4 rpg); F Mindaugas Kacinas 6-7 Sr. (10.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg); C Laimonas Chatkevicius 6-11 Sr. (9.6 ppg, 4.8 rpg)
Next game: The winner plays the Houston-Georgia Tech winner in the second round at a time and date to be announced.