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Analysis: Թϱ men's basketball season ends with heartbreaking first round loss to Oregon

<p>FILE- Head coach Lamont Paris speaks to players during a timeout in the second half of South Carolina's game against LSU on Feb. 17, 2024 at Colonial Life Arena. The Gamecocks fell to the Oregon Ducks in the first round of the NCAA tournament on March 21, 2024.</p>
FILE- Head coach Lamont Paris speaks to players during a timeout in the second half of Թϱ's game against LSU on Feb. 17, 2024 at Colonial Life Arena. The Gamecocks fell to the Oregon Ducks in the first round of the NCAA tournament on March 21, 2024.

The Թϱ men’s basketball team lost to Oregon 87-73 in the first round of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament on March 31. The Gamecocks’ season ended with a record of 26-8 and a 13-5 record in SEC conference play.

It hurts to lose, and it hurts more when it’s the last game of the year,” head coach Lamont Paris said. t hurts the most when you’re surrounded by a group of guys that is a really special group of individuals.”

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The Gamecocks never saw much control of the lead in the game, as Oregon entered halftime leading 34-29. Թϱ led 20-14 with a little over eight minutes left in the first half, but the Ducks then went on a blistering 20-9 run to end the half. The first half was seemingly capped on a positive note when fifth-year guard Ta’Lon Cooper banked in a beyond half-court shot at the buzzer to end the half.

The miraculous shot seemed to give a bit of buzz for Թϱ heading into the break, but the Gamecocks failed to capitalize on the momentum to begin the second half. Oregon went on another run in the first six minutes of the half, leading 55-37 with a little under 14 minutes remaining. The game was plagued by the Gamecocks’ offense being stifled and unable to stifle the Oregon offense themselves. 

Another difference between Թϱ and Oregon was the defensive intensity late in the game. The Ducks forced eight steals and six blocks on the Gamecocks, while Թϱ only forced three steals and three blocks.

The Ducks also put the Gamecocks in deep foul trouble late in the game, as graduate forward B.J. Mack fouled out, and sophomore guard Zachary Davis and junior guard Meechie Johnson each finished with four fouls.

Թϱ didn’t get consistent offensive production out of any players besides Johnson, who kept hitting bucket after bucket late in the game in an attempt to close the lead. Johnson finished with 24 points on 9-16 shooting from the field, including four 3-pointers. 

The story on the side of the Oregon Ducks came from a familiar face to the Gamecocks in fifth-year guard Jermaine Couisnard. Couisnard, who transferred out of Թϱ to Oregon following the 2021-22 season, finished with 40 points on 14-22 shooting, knocking down five 3-pointers and rising to the occasion against his former team. 

Despite falling short in the NCAA Tournament, Paris praised his team for the unexpected success the players produced this season. The Gamecocks were originally picked to finish last in the SEC in the media poll to begin the season but ultimately finished fifth entering the SEC Tournament. 

It's such a high-quality group of human beings. It would be hard for me to overstate that,” Paris said. “That really is what made this group able to do what they did on the basketball court.”

Paris said this season laid the groundwork for the future.

Freshman forward Collin Murray-Boyles emerged as a budding star, joining the SEC All-Freshman team. The backcourt tandem of Cooper and Johnson saw success, and each of them earned second-team All-SEC nods. Paris won SEC Coach of the Year and is a current finalist for the Naismith College Coach of the Year. His success also earned him a six-year contract extension

really like what our foundation looks like,” Paris said. think, more importantly than what those individuals are as basketball players, the culture that we have developed, the way in which we work, the way in which we interact, the way in which we respond to coaching ... that stuff could not be in a better place.”


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