South Carolina basketball officially silenced the doubters earlier this week with their win over the Tennessee Volunteers in Knoxville. The Gamecocks' road to the NCAA Tournament is far from over, however, as the SEC schedule is less than halfway completed.
The next test for Lamont Paris' team was the Georgia Bulldogs, a team USC lost to earlier this season. The Saturday afternoon contest in Athens was between two of the most improved teams in the Southeastern Conference this season.
The game began with a Collin Murray-Boyles tip win, and CMB followed it up with a dunk to open the scoring. Jabri Abdur-Rahim (son of NBA All-Star Shareef Abdur-Rahim) answered with a spinning layup. Both teams made their first two shots of the game but missed their next two.
An Abdur-Rahim 3-pointer put UGA up 8-4 before back-to-back dunks from Zach Davis and Josh Gray tied the score again. The 3rd 3-pointer from the Bulldogs (and 2nd from Abdur-Rahim) made the score 11-8 in favor of the home team.
A 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th shot from outside fell, but even with the perimeter barrage, Carolina didn't fall too far behind as they dominated the paint, scoring their first 12 points in the lane and 4 more from just outside the paint. Considering the 7-10 start from 3-point land for the 'Dawgs, a 23-16 deficit wasn't insurmountable.
As good as South Carolina was scoring down low in the paint, the Gamecocks were getting destroyed on the glass in the early goings. Georgia led 12-7 in rebounding 11 minutes into the game, and 5 of those boards came on the offensive end of the floor.
Ta'Lon Cooper made the Gamecocks' first 3-pointer to make the score 29-22, and then Meechie Johnson followed suit to cut the lead to just 4 points. After a media timeout, the deficit was just 1 after a Morris Ugusuk 3-pointer, and all of a sudden, the game felt very different.
Big Russell Tchewa stopped the bleeding for UGA, and another 3-pointer from Abdur-Rahim put his team back up by 6. Ta'Lon Cooper answered with his own deep ball before two paint shots dropped through the cylinder for the Bulldogs. 5 points from Collin Murray-Boyles and Meechie Johnson brought the count to 38-36. At that point in the game, the Gamecocks had assisted on all 16 of their field goal makes.
The final minute of the half both teams miss multiple shots, bringing down the efficient shooting percentages a bit. Georgia carried a lead into the intermission 40-38.
After the break, the Stegeman Coliseum crowd got loud on an and-1 conversion from Russell Tchewa, but a Ta'Lon Cooper triple dropped the decibel level down again. After just 8 total turnovers in the 1st half, 3 quick turnovers uglied the game a bit.
The paint excellence for USC continued as Josh Gray tied the game 47-47 with a layup, and the Gamecocks took the lead on a nice take from Zach Davis. From there, the two teams traded buckets and misses over the next several possessions until the under-12 media timeout.
2 BJ Mack free throws (on two 1-2 trips to the line) put Carolina up 53-51. The game slowed to a crawl as the whistles continued for both sides, but in the meantime, two Josh Gray makes (including a big dunk on two Georgia defenders) moved the South Carolina lead to 57-51.
In all, the Gamecock run was 8-0 as Georgia did not score for 5 minutes thanks in large part to a switch to a 1-3-1 zone defense. A Meechie Johnson pump fake and 3-pointer put his team up 60-53. The Bulldogs went almost 8 minutes without a field goal (their only points coming from the free throw line) before Justin Hill made a short jump shot to cut the lead to 60-55.
A BJ Mack and-1 put USC back up by 8, and then paint scores from both squads sent the game to the under-4 media timeout with the same margin. The lead grew to 12 shortly after the return to play, and the Gamecocks were able to coast to the finish.