South Carolina looks to rebound at home after tough stretch

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) South Carolina coach Frank Martin believes his team's current bumpy stretch is nothing that a little time at home this week can't correct.

The Gamecocks (17-2, 4-2 Southeastern Conference) opened the season with 15 straight wins. They've split their four games since, including a disappointing 78-69 loss at Tennessee Saturday. South Carolina dropped out of the Top 25 on Monday for the first time in five weeks.

Martin acknowledged his team is tired from its run on the road - six of its past 10 games since Dec. 18 were played away from home.

''That's four of our first six in league play,'' Martin said. ''I'm not making excuses. That's just what I think. That doesn't mean that we should accept not playing well.''

South Carolina gets a respite from the road this week with a pair of home games. The Gamecocks play struggling Mississippi State (8-10, 1-6) on Tuesday. The Bulldogs had lost their first league games before defeating Ole Miss this past Saturday.

Martin's not pushing the panic button for his team, which opened with its best run to start a season since the 1933-34 team opened 17-0 before its first loss. The Gamecocks have plenty of upperclass leadership, the fourth-year coach said, to weather any dips in the season.

''We're not 10-7. We're 17-2,'' he said. ''We've won seven of nine games away from home. We've won two road conference games, which is probably the most this school has won since the earth was invented.''

It's certainly the most Martin's won in a season since he arrived from Kansas State after the 2011-12 season. The Gamecocks picked up three SEC road victories in coach Darrin Horn's debut season of 2008-09. That was also the last time South Carolina won 20 games, a benchmark he hopes his team can take more steps toward this week.

''We've just got to stay in the moment and stay who we are and not get wrapped up trying to cross the finish line,'' Martin said.

The Gamecocks have not been helped by their point guard play the past few games, Martin said.

Junior Sindarius Thornwell, sophomore Marcus Stroman and McDonald's All-American freshman P.J. Dozier have backslid on their defense and that's allowed South Carolina's opponents to find a rhythm that's cost his team.

Thornwell, the dynamic 6-5 swing guard averaging 11.6 points a game, is 2-of-23 shooting the past two games. He's missed all six of his three-point attempts and committed eight turnovers in that stretch.

Michael Carrera said he's confident Thornwell will find his way out the slump because of how hard he's worked at practice.

''We know he's going to do his thing,'' said Carrera, the Gamecocks' leader with 12.6 points and 6.6 rebounds a game this season.

Carrera, part of Martin's first recruiting class, thinks the Gamecocks have gone through too much to get to this point to get slipshod now.

''We've got to go back to that mentality,'' he said. ''Getting ourselves a winning mentality.''

Things might've been even worse for South Carolina if not for a late-game rally at Ole Miss last Wednesday night. The Gamecocks trailed 64-53 with just over five minutes remaining before outscoring the Rebels 13-2 the rest of the way to tie things at the end and win, 77-74, in overtime.

The Gamecocks had hoped to build on that effort against Tennessee. Instead, they gave up nine 3-pointers to the Vols in the second half to fall behind.

South Carolina center Laimonas Chatkevicius felt a despondent team on the bus to the airport after the loss, concerned they had let a winnable game slip away because they hadn't played how they had much of the season.

''Those downs, we've got to pick them up,'' Chatkevicius said.