COLUMBIA - Eddie Fogler emerged from his team's 71-57 win over Mercer with the look of a stranded motorist peering under the hood.
There were plenty of questions after South Carolina's lackluster showing before 8,854 at Frank McGuire Arena, but the Gamecocks coach didn't have many answers.
"I don't know why we can't play with emotion or confidence," Fogler said. "I don't know. I asked them; they don't know. If I knew, I'd fix it."
You've heard of moral victories? The Gamecocks introduced moral defeat into the lexicon despite removing most doubt by halftime and improving their record to 3-1.
Fogler griped about rebounding - the Gamecocks shot 56 times from the field but managed just seven offensive boards - and his team's indifference to the proceedings.
Fogler often had to shield his eyes from the slow-motion picture unfolding on the floor. The Gamecocks committed 14 turnovers, 18 fouls and shot 42 percent from the field (24-of-56).
"There are some teams that aren't out there in the big time conferences, and we have to respect them," said sophomore forward Calvin Clemmons (10 points, eight rebounds).
North Augusta's Antonio Grant (nine points on 3-of-4 shooting) and David Ross (11 points on 4-of-8) played well. Beyond that, Fogler couldn't find much good to say.
"We just seem to be in slow motion, really," he said. "We really do.. We look slow, we don't react, we don't rebound the ball. We seem to get discouraged when things don't go our way."
The Bears (1-2), who hail from Macon and are coached by Mark Slonaker, Georgia class of 1980, evoked some fear by virtue of their 92-88 win at Auburn on Nov. 20.
Which begged the question after the game: how bad is Auburn?
The Gamecocks were shaky at the start, falling behind 10-2 as the Bears made their first four field-goal attempts. But after making six of their first 10 from the field, the Bears missed 16 of their next 17 as South Carolina snatched the lead and increased it to 12 points just before halftime.
The Gamecocks extended it to 18 points when Clemmons hit two free throws at the 10:36 mark, then the Bears cut it to 62-51 with less than four minutes left before South Carolina fattened the cushion to end it.
The Gamecocks need to rebound - literally and figuratively - by Saturday, when they'll travel to Charlotte to face what appears a daunting matchup (7:30 p.m.).
The 49ers (3-1) have won at home against Miami (95-63) and at N.C. State (95-78), and they could add another notch to their ever-expanding belt if South Carolina continues its ragged play.
"They're a real good team," said sophomore swingman Chuck Eidson, who scored a team-high 12 points on 4-of-9 shooting. "Hopefully we put everything together in practice and come out and show Gamecock fans what we can really do."
Said Fogler: "Maybe that's what we need. I don't know, we'll see. Sometimes you can learn from butt-kickings."
Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645 or email@example.com