Darrin Horn has only been South Carolina’s coach less than two seasons. Yet, he’s already heard far too much about the Gamecocks long losing streak to rival Clemson.
South Carolina (6-1) has lost its last five games to the No. 18 Tigers (6-2), the past four by an average margin of defeat of more than 15 points.
“I was here for only one of those, so it’s hard for me to talk about what’s happened throughout the past,” Horn said, referring to last season’s 98-87 Clemson win. “That being said, there’s no question we recognize that this is an important game to our fans and to people in this state.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that we know it’s important, and we want to win it,” Horn said Friday.
On Sunday, South Carolina travels to Littlejohn Coliseum, where it has won only three times in its past nine visits.
The Gamecocks, though, may have picked the wrong year to seek an end to their victory drought. They’ll play again without two starters - and their two leading rebounders from last season - in injured forwards Dominique Archie and Mike Holmes.
Archie has been out since spraining his right knee in a loss to Miami on Nov. 22. There is no timetable for his return.
Holmes broke a bone near his left eye when he was horsing around at home, Horn has said, during the team’s break last weekend. Horn said Holmes had successful surgery this week and hoped to know next week how soon he might be back.
The more big bodies the better when dealing with Clemson’s inside game that features senior star Trevor Booker.
Horn expects to find a more intense group of Tigers, and not just because of the rivalry. Clemson held a 23-point lead at home against Illinois before losing it all and, eventually, the game, 76-74 to the Illini.
Clemson coach Oliver Purnell didn’t feel much better after watching the game film. He said there was a six-minute or so stretch where everything went wrong for the Tigers, including a tip back of an Illinois missed shot by Booker as he attempted to control a rebound.
“Then it was anybody’s ballgame,” Purnell said.
He gave the team Thursday off to recover - and stew.
“I hope they were down coming out of the game,” Purnell said. “But I hope they’re eagerly looking forward to the next game.”
A key for Clemson will be slowing down South Carolina star Devan Downey, who leads the Gamecocks with 19 points a game so far.
Downey was practically unstoppable in last year’s game, making 14-of-21 shots for a career high of 37 points. He says he’ll do whatever it takes to end the losing streak, even taking a less prominent role in the offense.
“What I did last year, what we did wasn’t good enough so maybe we need to try something different,” Downey said.
Purnell tried to get Downey, a South Carolina “Mr. Basketball” winner, to look at Clemson when he was searching for a school closer to home after transferring from Cincinnati following the 2005-06 season.
Downey is a game changer, Purnell said, who can do so many things with the basketball.
“All he’s got to do is get in the lane to be a threat to score,” said Clemson’s coach.
Downey hopes he gets the chance to score enough to bring South Carolina the win he’s heard so much about during his time with the Gamecocks.
“It’s the fans’ job, they want to beat Clemson,” Downey said. “It is what it is.”