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A disappointing end to a once-promising season got even more depressing for Gamecock fans last night.

South Carolina’s 70-63 loss to Davidson in the opening round of the NIT Tournament was USC’s fourth loss in five games, an atrocious finish to a season that seemed filled with such promise three short weeks ago.

On February 25, USC was 20-6 and had just blown out Kentucky to sit alone atop the SEC East.

It looked like Carolina was a lock to go to the “Big Dance” in head coach Darrin Horn’s first season.

Of course, in typical South Carolina fashion, the Gamecocks collapsed.

First, USC was blown out by SEC foes Vanderbilt and Tennessee (the latter at home on national TV).

Then, Carolina was “one-and-done” in the SEC Tournament, resulting in a painful NCAA snub.

Yet while the notion of optimism popping under the weight of historical mediocrity is nothing new for USC athletics, we have faith aplenty in Coach Horn – even if we think his gangta pinstripe suits and slicked-back hair could use an upgrade.

Horn took a team that won just fourteen games in each of the previous two years and turned them into a contender – dramatically exceeding our expectations.

And with the exception of guard Zam Frederick, Horn has all of his major contributors coming back next year.

On top of that, he’s had a solid recruiting class, including Charlotte’s Lakeem Jackson – a 6’4″ small forward with explosive potential – and Florida shooting guard Ramon Galloway.

The late-season crash notwithstanding, South Carolina’s basketball program is in capable hands.

We look forward to watching Horn’s squad improve on a solid foundation in 2009-10.