With their postseason dreams on the ropes and a double-digit halftime lead all but gone, UGA dug in and found a way to win against #25 South Carolina over the final stretch of tonight’s game in Athens.
The Gamecocks, who shot just 21% from the floor before the break, started to knock down shots in the second half; after Duane Notice buried a three from the corner, USC trailed Georgia 50-48 with 6:34 left.
On the ensuing possession, Kenny Gaines tipped in a Michael Edwards miss. Then he took a Carolina miss the length of the floor and finished over a falling Michael Carrera, putting the Dawgs back up 54-48 with 5:17 remaining.
J.J. Frazier, who played sparingly in the first half due to foul trouble, knocked down two huge three’s during this same time span. The second one he hit falling into the UGA bench, yet he somehow managed to draw nothing but net, sending the Dawgs up 62-53 with under 2 minutes left in the game. This shot by Frazier sent the Stegeman crowd into pandemonium, and Georgia won its first game of the year against a ranked opponent, downing the Cocks 69-56 in Athens.
Coach Mark Fox had to be pleased with his team’s defensive effort on the night. Other than a few lapses at the top of the key in the second half, the Dawgs defended Carolina well, contesting nearly every shot. The Cocks entered this evening’s contest making more than 44% of their shots from the field, yet UGA limited them to only 31% from the floor. USC’s 56 point effort tonight was its second-lowest offensive output of the season. On the year, Frank Martin’s team’s scoring has been incredibly balanced, with five players averaging in double-figures. However, Sindarius Thornwell and Carrera were the only Gamecocks to finish with over 10 points tonight, scoring 18 and 11, respectively.
The Dawgs certainly were not spectacular on offense, shooting under 39% from the field, but as I mentioned above, Coach Fox’s team made shots when they needed to in this game. Yante Maten led all UGA scorers with 18 points to go along with 8 rebounds and 4 blocks. South Carolina’s Mindaugas Kacinas simply couldn’t handle Maten as Yante consistently drove the ball at him and scored on a series of acrobatic shots.
Kenny Gaines finished with 17 points, and Frazier and Charles Mann chipped in 13 and 11, respectively.
This win is easily Georgia’s biggest of the season, and not only because the Gamecocks are ranked in both the AP and Coaches Poll. In addition to those accolades, Frank Martin’s team is currently sitting with an RPI of 28.
The Dawgs are 12-8 overall and 5-4 in the SEC, and with Tennessee knocking off #20 Kentucky this evening, Georgia has a chance to move into the upper echelon of the SEC standings this Saturday if they can hold serve at home against Auburn (Florida heads to Kentucky and USC visits Texas A&M). If UGA wants to play any postseason games this year, then they have to put together a bit of a winning streak.
Again, Georgia has Auburn in Athens on Saturday, which is a game the Dawgs should win. Unless, of course, they are peeking ahead at next Tuesday’s prime time matchup in Lexington against Kentucky.