NEW ORLEANS - The look on Tony Kitchings' face said everything.
Mississippi was shooting free throws on the other end of the floor late in the second half Thursday, but Kitchings stared straight ahead from his seat on the bench - the perfect picture of disinterest, displeasure and disgust.
Sitting out the final 17:42 of his last game at South Carolina wasn't how Kitchings envisioned it. But there he sat, towel draped over his shoulders in South Carolina's season-ending 62-56 loss to Mississippi in the first round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
"I'm (ticked) off," said Kitchings, a former South Aiken star who finished with no points and two rebounds in 16 minutes. "To sit out 90 percent of a game hurts you a little bit. I don't care what kind of person you are, it hurts you."
Second-year coach Dave Odom said he decided to sit Kitchings to create better matchups inside with the shorter, quicker Rebels. Carlos Powell scored 10 points in Kitchings' spot, mostly on shots from the baseline.
Kitchings said Odom never gave him that explanation.
"He didn't tell me," said the 6-foot-10, 260-pounder. "I didn't know why. All I know is I was sitting. I know I defended pretty well. My guy (Derrick Allen) had two points at halftime."
Odom and Kitchings haven't had an ideal relationship since Odom took over in 2001. Kitchings has been plagued by conditioning problems throughout his career, and Odom's patience with his center wore thin this season, when the Gamecocks' frontcourt failed to become the force many observers thought it would be.
Still, there was hope Kitchings would end his college career with a flourish. He had a history of performing well in the SEC Tournament, most recently last year's sterling effort that propelled the Gamecocks to the semifinals and earned Kitchings a spot on the all-tournament team.
Earlier this week, Kitchings seemed confident his success in this setting would continue.
"I like playing on big stages," he said Wednesday. "When the stakes pick up, my game picks up."
Mississippi (13-14), which entered the game having won once in its previous 10 games, seemed to be the hungrier team. The West No. 5 seed Rebels jumped on South Carolina early and never trailed, handing the East No. 4 seed Gamecocks (12-16) their fifth loss in six games.
"We played Ole Miss basketball," said Mississippi coach Rod Barnes, who won his 100th game with the Rebels. "It didn't look pretty, but that's the way we like to make games."
Forward Justin Reed led Mississippi with 22 points, and Allen amassed 16 rebounds - seven on the offensive end. Senior guard Chris Warren led the Gamecocks with 20 points on 8-for-12 shooting, but his output underscored his team's inability to work the ball into the post.
"They beat us badly inside," said Odom, whose team cut the Rebels' lead to one point three times in the second half but could never do anything more.
Odom said playing Kitchings more in the second half "would have been my preference, but there comes a time where you make a decision that's best for the team."
Kitchings didn't seem to think the move was best for him, reacting to it with a blank stare forward. Given his blank scoring total, it was a fitting look.
"This will motivate me for this summer," said Kitchings, who plans to pursue a career in professional basketball. "This happened for a reason. I'm just going to prove a lot of people wrong when I leave this program."
Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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