ATHENS, Ga. — Kentavious Caldwell-Pope didn’t want to save his best for last, but he had no choice after struggling in the first half.
“He’s shown all season that he can put us on his back,” Georgia teammate Charles Mann said. “This time it just took a little longer than usual, but we got the win.”
The two Bulldogs gave their team reason to celebrate on Saturday as Caldwell-Pope overcame a scoreless first half to finish with 18 points in Georgia’s 62-54 overtime victory over South Carolina.
Mann finished with 14 points for the Bulldogs (13-14, 7-7 SEC), who snapped a three-game losing skid.
Bruce Ellington scored 11 points and was the only player to finish in double digits for South Carolina (13-14, 3-11).
Caldwell-Pope came off a screen on the right wing to hit a 3-pointer with 8.9 seconds left that sent the game to overtime.
It was just the response Georgia needed after Eric Smith’s two free throws gave USC a 53-50 lead with 17 seconds left.
After Ellington’s 3-pointer with 1:43 left in regulation made it 51-47 and gave South Carolina its biggest lead, the Gamecocks failed to score another field goal for the remainder of the game
“You have to win the game,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said. “We didn’t do that. What’s disappointing is the lack of belief that we are supposed to win. That’s what’s disappointing. We were scrambling from the (start), and I have no idea why.”
Georgia overcame an atrocious performance on free throws, missing 18 of 46 attempts, but South Carolina hardly helped itself by shooting 50 percent on 24 attempts.
“Even though we had the lead for most of the (game), we missed a bunch of free throws and we weren’t playing stellar basketball,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. “It helps this group because they did things right and when you do things right, you want them to be rewarded. Tonight they get rewarded.”
The Bulldogs went over 6 minutes without a field goal before Caldwell-Pope’s 3 made forced OT. Ellington missed a long 3-point attempt at the regulation buzzer, but South Carolina got a second chance after the officials ruled that the game had gone to overtime.
During the timeout before the start of extra period, officials retracted their decision when replays that showed the clock had started too early after Caldwell-Pope’s 3.
Another 4.5 seconds was put back on the clock in regulation, but Ellington had his 3-point attempt from the right wing tipped by Mann at the buzzer.
“By rule, it was a correctible error situation,” officials crew chief Anthony Jordan said. “We put the ball back in play, giving South Carolina the 4.5 seconds it had lost when the clock erroneously ran. The ball was placed on the baseline at the point closest to where (a South Carolina player) initially received the ball.”
In overtime, Caldwell-Pope hit a runner to give the Bulldogs a 55-53 lead, and Georgia never again trailed.
Caldwell-Pope, the SEC’s second-leading scorer, finished just 4 for 12 from the field, including 2 for 8 on 3-point attempts. He was scoreless in the first half.
Ellington’s 3 made it 37-35 with 12:17 remaining before Brian Richardson’s 3 gave the Gamecocks their first lead at 39-38 with 8:47 left in the game.
South Carolina went up 51-47 on Lakeem Jackson’s short jumper and Ellington’s straightaway trey.
The Gamecocks were seeking consecutive wins for the first time since they beat Presbyterian Dec. 29 for their fifth straight victory.
South Carolina missed 18 of its first 21 shots in the first half.
“There was a lack of communication and too much indecisiveness,” Smith said. “We can’t have lapses like that. It’s very frustrating, but it’s our fault. We can’t blame anyone but ourselves. We have to figure out a way to finish the game.”
Caldwell-Pope was 0 for 4 from the field and 0 for 3 on free throws before his two fouls shots put the Bulldogs up 28-18 early in the second half.
Georgia didn’t fare much better in the first half, shooting just 23.1 percent to lead 23-16 at intermission.