ATHENS, Ga. -- When Georgia started the second half with a missed dunk, a botched layup and three turnovers, the home crowd began to grumble.
Here we go again, they surely thought.
But the Bulldogs snapped out of it, finally showing they can put a team away. Trey Thompkins scored 20 points, Travis Leslie added 15 and Georgia cruised to a win it had to have, blowing out South Carolina, 64-48, Saturday night.
South Carolina had a miserable shooting night, going 1 of 19 from 3-point range and finishing 17 of 60 (28 percent) overall. The Gamecocks didn't play much defense, either, giving up several highlight-show dunks and allowing Georgia to shoot 50 percent most of the game.
Malik Cooke led South Carolina with 11 points.
"This is a team that's lost a lot of leads," Gamecocks coach Darrin Horn said of Georgia. "We were actually much better in the second half, but it was just too much to overcome."
Ramon Galloway added 10 points for USC, but shot just 3 of 14 from the field. Sam Muldrow had 10 points and seven rebounds.
Coming off a loss at Florida, the Bulldogs (19-9, 8-6 Southeastern Conference) knew a defeat to last-place South Carolina (14-13, 5-9) would be a huge blow to their on-the-bubble NCAA chances.
They led 39-22 at the half, but there was still another 20 minutes to go. And so many times -- including the first meeting against the Gamecocks -- that's where Georgia has run into trouble.
Not this time. After that sluggish start to the second half, Jeremy Price seemed to snap the Bulldogs out of it with a dunk, and they led by as many as 24 before slowing things down and clearing the bench.
"We were kind of like, 'Uh oh,' " said Price, who added 14 points. "But then we picked it up as a team. This is a big step for us."
For one half, at least, this was a virtual replay of the first meeting in Columbia. Georgia led 28-9 at the half in that one.
South Carolina stormed back after the break, and the Bulldogs needed Thompkins' block in the final seconds to preserve a 60-56 win. Coach Mark Fox reminded his players of that game at the break.
The Bulldogs raced to a double-digit lead before the game was 10 minutes old, making it 17-6 on Price's dunk. But just a few seconds later, Price got an earful from Fox for a hot-dogging play.
The senior forward had a clear path to the basket, but decided to flip a lob pass to Leslie, who was flying in off the wing. Leslie was fouled on the attempted dunk and Fox stormed off the bench, yelling at Price.
The coach signaled for Chris Barnes to go in and waited for Price to trot over sheepishly between the two free throws. Fox pulled his player close for a lecture, but the two patted each other on the backside before Price headed to take a seat. A few minutes later, he came back in the game.
"He almost gave me a heart attack. Then," Fox quipped, "he almost died."
The Bulldogs were rolling by the end of the first half. Leslie got another chance to wow the crowd when he blew by the Gamecocks' phantom defense, rocking the rim with a thunderous right-handed dunk. Two possessions later, Gerald Robinson took off on nearly the same move from the opposite side, jamming it in, too.
South Carolina guard Eric Smith, sitting on the bench, got up to implore someone -- anyone -- to put a stop to Georgia's dunkfest.
Georgia has struggled to close out games, and it looked like that would be the case again when they missed a layup, a dunk and turned it over three times to start the second half.
But South Carolina couldn't take advantage, only cutting it to 39-27 while the Bulldogs struggled. Georgia finally scored when Price dunked off a pass from Leslie with 16:30 remaining, and the rout was back on.