WASHINGTON -- Even though the game happened a year ago, South Carolina still finds itself defending last March's performance to this very day.
The Gamecocks were shockingly upset by Coppin State in the first round of the NCAA tournament.Twelve months later, as South Carolina opens play against Richmond in the East Regionals at approximately 2:45 p.m. today, the team has been asked question after question about the painful memory.
Being in the nation's capital, you would think Kenneth Starr was around.
"Coppin State is over with -- totally over with," USC guard BJ McKie said with a measure of anger in his voice. "You guys, the media, can continue to write about the Coppin State game all you want. But that game is over with. We play the Richmond Spiders (today)."
Richmond knows about upsets, as the school is one of the all-time great giant killers in NCAA tournament history. In 1991, the Spiders stunned Syracuse to become the first No. 15 seed to win a game. Other upset-victims to Richmond in the tournament include Auburn (1984) and Indiana (1988).
Asked if any current players remember the upsets, Richmond coach John Beilein said, "They know it. A lot of them became Richmond fans or knew of Richmond during the recruiting process because of those former Richmond teams. They look up every day and see those banners from the 80s and early 90s. In those recruiting videos, we show some of those great wins. But we haven't talked about it one second. We talk about strong-side defense and help-side defense. That's what our focus is on (this week)."
For the past four days, South Carolina has been bombarded with questions about last March. The Gamecocks became only the third No. 2 seed in tournament history to lose to a No. 15 seed, when Coppin State pulled off the 78-65 upset.
"That (USC) team had a very good year; they were the first in school history to win the regular-season championship in the SEC," Gamecocks coach Eddie Fogler said. "I'm not defending that team, (rather) just stating facts. They will be remembered and well-respected at the University of South Carolina. Coppin State was very good. Again, not to defend our team, but Coppin State came within one point of (advancing) to the Sweet 16."
After last year's loss, the South Carolina players blamed it on everything from the fatigue of winning the SEC to complacency.
"This year's team is more focused and not using fatigue as an excuse," USC guard Melvin Watson said. "We're pretty tired now, but fatigue is poor excuse. We're just trying to accomplish something we haven't done in a long time at South Carolina. We're just focusing on (today's game), and blacking out what happened (last year)."
Said McKie, "It's more of a business-like approach this year. We're more of a mature team, and know what we need to do. We've put the Coppin State game behind us. That was a whole other season ago. We're just focused on (today). It's the most focused we've ever been."
With every loss, there is something to be learned. How are the Gamecocks wiser and smarter from last March's experience?
"Last year's lesson? I don't have to say much ... the lesson is anybody can beat anybody on any given night in college basketball," Fogler said. "That's the lesson, but it has been going on for a number of years."
South Carolina has not won a first-round game in the NCAA Tournament since 1973.
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