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Kory Holden

South Carolina's Kory Holden scores over Western Michigan's Seth Dugan during first-half action in Columbia on Monday, Nov. 13, 2017.

Travis Bell, Sideline Carolina

COLUMBIA -- Kory Holden had a front row seat last season to South Carolina’s magical Final Four run.

Sitting out because of transfer rules, the guard watched as his teammates became the Cinderella story of the tournament.

This year, he was forced to the bench again due to injury and saw a different show from the front row.

“I saw how good we can be; I saw how bad we can be,” he said. “But I know if we come together as a team and get back to playing Frank Martin, South Carolina basketball we can be good. We know going into every game we can play with anybody if we play like we’re supposed to play.”

Holden missed 11 games total with a hamstring injury, watching on as his team beat the likes Kentucky and Florida but also drop close games to Tennessee, Texas Tech and Mississippi State.

Now, Holden’s back and ready to help his team try and play its way back into the NCAA Tournament conversation. South Carolina hosts Florida at noon Saturday on CBS.

He played nine minutes on the road against A&M, missing all five of his shots. His next game, after getting his feet under him a little, was better.

Shooting 3-for-8 from the field, 2-for-4 from three, Holden scored 11 points and hauled in two rebounds in a loss to Arkansas and marked his first points since Dec. 19 when he got hurt.

He had been on the mend recently before getting inserted back on the floor, but was never healthy enough to make it, but it appears he’s inching closer to 100 percent now.

“I was still having a little bit of pain when I was running and stuff, but it’s something I could push through and enough to go through warm ups,” he said. “I just wasn’t comfortable to go out there and move laterally and stuff like that.”

As the game went on against the Razorbacks, he looked to get more comfortable in the offense and easing back into playing as quick as he needs to in the SEC.

He’d practiced fully two days before returning to the lineup against the Aggies, but it’s one thing to do it there and another to do it when the lights are on.

“The games are completely different when you’re going up-and-down like we were and the way we guard,” he said. “Getting back in shape is a big thing for me right now.”

It looks like Holden will be back for this season’s stretch run as the Gamecocks (13-11, 4-7) try to do anything in their power to bolster a postseason resume.

It won't be easy to do with four games remaining against the SEC’s top three teams (the Gamecocks play SEC leader Auburn twice).

But with a tough schedule comes the chance for RPI-boosting wins. If the Gamecocks pull off some upsets, then they could play their way onto the bubble.

It’s plausible, but Holden knows the margin for mistakes is slim.

“There’s not a lot of error we can make,” he said. “We have to know there’s still a chance for us to make the tournament. We realize that. The coaches do a great job of keeping our spirits and letting us know there’s still a chance for us to be able to play in the tournament if we keep working every day like we have been.”

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