March 23, 2016

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) South Carolina's record-tying season is more likely to be remembered for its finish than its start.

Despite a 15-0 start, 25 victories to match the all-time best mark set in 1970 and 11 wins in the Southeastern Conference, the Gamecocks missed out on the NCAA Tournament for a 12th straight season, had two players arrested earlier this month and lost six of their final 10 games.

Gamecocks coach Frank Martin acknowledged it has been a whirlwind of emotions the past few weeks. The most jarring incident were the arrests of reserves Jamall Gregory and Eric Cobb on misdemeanor charges in connection with firing a BB pellet gun in a neighborhood near campus. Both players are free on bail.

The two were among five players (including backups Marcus Stroman, Chris Silva and TeMarcus Blanton) that Martin suspended indefinitely for a ''conduct'' issue two days before the arrests.

The season ended for South Carolina (25-9) on Monday night with a lackluster, 83-66 loss at home to Georgia Tech in the second round of the NIT.

''We've played on unbelievable passion and toughness all year,'' Martin said. ''We just didn't have that umph.''

There are a number of questions facing Martin following his fourth season at South Carolina - some of them involving Martin.

He has met with athletic director Ray Tanner regarding a contract extension - Martin has two years left on the six-year deal he signed when taking the job before the 2012-13 season - but wanted to wait until the season was complete before concentrating on his future.

Martin has given no indication if any of the suspended players will be back. With the Gamecocks losing three senior starters in leading scorer Michael Carrera, Mindaugas Kacinas and Laimonas Chatkevicius, the coach might have to scour campus to fill out a roster next fall.

Martin said recruiting is a 24 hour a day, seven day a week, 365 days a year task that coaches attack ''as if you've got to fill 13 spots in today's culture, you get left without players.''

He's unsure what his roster will look like next fall.

''I hope we don't have to replace so many people, but now as we separate from the season, those are things I've got time to start addressing,'' Martin said. ''So we'll see.''

For most of the season, it sure looked like the Gamecocks would end their NCAA Tournament drought.

They won their first 15 games with only 18-0 SMU having a better start in Division I before losing. The Gamecocks, picked seventh in the SEC in October, wound up third with an 11-7 mark - just their fourth 10-or-more win league season since joining the SEC in 1992.

But the Gamecocks slide down the stretch left them on the outside of the NCAA bubble and Martin addressed South Carolina fans on Selection Sunday after not getting a bid.

''You work real hard and you hope that your name goes up on the board,'' he told the fans. ''Unfortunately, it did not.''

South Carolina will look to build next year around juniors Sindarius Thornwell and Duane Notice. Thornwell was second to Carrera in scoring at 13.4 points a game and led the Gamecocks with 50 steals. Notice came off the bench most of the season, averaging 10.8 points a game.

Freshman PJ Dozier, a McDonald's All-American in high school, had an up-and-down season where he started 28 of 34 games, but struggles on defense often saw him sitting for long stretches with foul trouble. The Gamecocks will need the dynamic 6-foot-6 guard to take a significant step forward next fall.

Martin's biggest offseason job might be reminding his team and fan base that the program made positive strides.

''I've got to make sure I gather my thoughts to where we understand we accomplished a lot of firsts,'' he said, ''a lot of things that hadn't happened in a long, long time.''

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