COLUMBIA — One after another, the shots clanked off the rim. It was more of the same at Colonial Life Arena, with one exception — it was happening to the other team.
This time it was South Carolina’s opponent that went into the offensive deep freeze, as the Gamecocks held Georgia to just four second-half field goals and ended the Bulldogs’ five-game winning streak Saturday in a 67-50 victory before 13,031. USC’s second conference victory snapped a four-game skid in SEC action, and showed hints of the team the Gamecocks were during a seven-game win streak prior to the start of league play.
“That’s how we were playing in December when we kind of rolled a little bit,” head coach Frank Martin said. “We got away from that.”
They rediscovered some of it Saturday, when Laimonas Chatkevicius scored 12 to lead four players in double-figures, and South Carolina (11-9, 2-6 SEC) enjoyed its best shooting game in two weeks. USC hit 40 percent of its attempts from the floor, marking the first time in four games the Gamecocks have peeked above 34 percent, and generating enough offense to win its first league game since edging Alabama on Jan. 13.
USC’s shooting percentage in SEC play had been over 100 points lower than during its seven-game winning streak, dooming the Gamecocks in competitive efforts against No. 1 Kentucky and at LSU. They didn’t exactly shoot the lights out Saturday, but enough shots fell early that they were able to build a double-digit lead on the Bulldogs and let their defense — which held Georgia without a field goal for over nine minutes in the second half — do the rest.
“Like Coach said, today we had the guts to pull it out,” said USC’s Tyrone Johnson, who scored 10. “Just do everything we need to do and make big-boy plays. That all starts with our defense, and our defense translates into our offense, and we were able to hit some shots.”
J.J. Frazier scored 16 to lead Georgia (14-6, 5-3), which had received votes in this week’s AP Top 25 poll, and was one of six SEC teams in ESPN’s most recent projected NCAA tournament bracket. The Bulldogs played without senior forward Marcus Thornton, their leader in points (13.5) and rebounds (7.3) per game, who was out with a concussion. The resulting loss was Georgia’s worst of the season, besting a 12-point setback to No. 3 Gonzaga.
“Without Thornton, we were totally disjoined,” said Georgia coach Mark Fox, who was denied his 100th victory at the school. “Totally disjointed without him. We never could settle down and find a rhythm.”
South Carolina played without starting forward Demetrius Henry and reserve guard Justin McKie, also out with concussions. Martin said Henry was “real close” to playing, and is expected to resume physical activity Sunday with an eye toward perhaps returning Tuesday at Arkansas. McKie’s comeback is likely to take longer, given that he’s recovering from his second concussion this season.
But even low on personnel, USC was able to manage its most complete effort since beating then-No. 9 Iowa State on Jan. 3, the last of the Gamecocks’ seven straight wins. For a few stretches Saturday, it actually felt a little like December again.
“Really happy for our guys,” Martin said. “For guys who worked their tails off, they deserved to figure out a way to win.”