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Two weeks after humiliating Kentucky to reach twenty wins for the first time in three years, the University of South Carolina basketball team capped a season-ending implosion with an ugly 82-68 loss to Mississippi State.

South Carolina lost three of its last four games – including two blowouts and today’s giveaway to the Bulldogs in the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament in Tampa, Florida.

The loss may cost the Gamecocks their first trip to the NCAA tournament in five years, as many analysts felt USC’s nationally televised loss to Tennessee a week ago made them a “bubble team.”

Darrin Horn’s team started off hot against the Bulldogs, leading by double-digits in the first half, but fell apart in the final ten minutes of the game as MSU guard Barry Stewart started raining 3-point baskets.

With 8:28 remaining, the game was tied at 55 before Mississippi State went on a 7-0 run to lead 62-55.

South Carolina whittled it back down to a three-point game, but Mississippi State went on a 6-0 run to lead 70-61.

The Gamecocks again came back, pulling it within five as the game entered its final minute, but Mississippi State went on a 9-0 run to close out the game.

Zam Frederick paced Carolina with 20 points, but it was another disappointing performance from a team that seemed to be firing on all cylinders just two short weeks ago.

First team All-SEC guard Devan Downey had his second-worst game of the whole season, finishing with just eleven points.

A frustrated Downey also committed an intentional foul in the game’s closing minutes.

So will South Carolina make the “Big Dance?”

And can they figure out a way to regroup if they do?

We hope the answer to both questions is “yes,” but this was a game they really needed to win in order to make that happen.

The Gamecocks have been to the NCAA Tournament just five times in the last 35 years – which averages out to once every seven years.

They also haven’t won a tournament game in 36 years, having been bounced in the first round five consecutive times.