ATHENS, Ga. — South Carolina doesn’t win easy.
But they win.
The Gamecocks sneaked past Georgia 86-80 Saturday in much the same manner of how they got to 6-2 and in the top four of the SEC. They spurted ahead, let the opponent come back, Chris Silva played at an All-American level and somebody hit a big shot.
This time, it was several of those big shots, whether it was Hassani Gravett sticking two 3-pointers in the final five minutes, Felipe Haase drilling three from long range in a 102-second span or freshman Keyshawn Bryant showing off more of his uncanny athleticism by converting shots at the rim.
And there was the not-so-small matter of A.J. Lawson, not the same player lately that he was during the non-conference season, finding an offensive rebound that bounced off six of the 10 players on the floor before being fouled.
“I thought one of them was going to get it off the first shot, get the rebound, but I had to come in there and help out a little bit,” said Lawson, who scored 19 points with seven rebounds.
He aced each end of a 1-and-1 to keep the Gamecocks up five in the final 32 seconds, Georgia missed three 3-pointers on its next trip and USC (11-10) had another heart-stopper of a victory.
“Somehow, some way, we figure out a way to close out the game,” USC coach Frank Martin said. “Win on the road in February, you take it.”
* Silva still had some silly fouls (including one where he didn’t touch the guy but was in proximity) but was also the rampaging beast in the paint he was expected to be all season. With Martin continuing to kick himself for putting too much on Silva in the non-conference season, Silva keeps responding with stellar games.
He scored 19 points while only missing three field goals, and harnessed six rebounds with a blocked shot. Maik Kotsar’s heads-up defensive read earned him a steal and a sort-of assist to Silva, who took the ball on the break, high-crossed the ball from his left hand over the defender and flushed it with his right.
* Haase smoked three 3s in 1:42, including the first off a set play following a timeout. It’s what he can do well, and it extended a four-point lead to 13.
“Felipe has not practiced or played well in 10 or 12 days. I have no idea why,” Martin said. “I’m more excited about the fact he defended Nicolas Claxton during that stretch. Probably the best stretch of defense he’s played here.”
* Bryant hyperextended his knee a day before the Tennessee game but still played, and after Martin said he didn’t know if Bryant would play against Georgia on his Thursday radio show, Bryant started and scored 11 points with six boards. He also swatted one of Claxton’s shots back to Claxton’s Greenville hometown.
* Besides Haase’s big 3-pointers, Gravett connected for two when Georgia had cut the lead to seven and five points, respectively. USC was 11 of 16 from deep for the game, which helped cover missing seven free throws and sending Georgia to the line nine more times than they went.
Tre Campbell also had three 3s for all of his points in the first half.
* Got to keep Silva on the floor. He sat down with nine minutes to go in the first half and the Gamecocks up 15 points.
Georgia was down five at halftime after scoring on 13 straight possessions where Silva played 14 seconds.
* The Bulldogs (10-11, 1-7) grabbed an unsightly 20 offensive rebounds. They scored 21 second-chance points, including their first eight.
“Been a problem on our team all year,” Martin said. “Did a lot of watching. Almost cost us the game.”
Coming for you, Dave
With his 124th win, Martin moved past Eddie Fogler for sole possession of fourth place on USC’s career wins chart. He is five from passing Dave Odom for third.
The Gamecocks are at No. 7 Kentucky on Tuesday.