It fell apart slowly, and then it all fell apart.
It started when the Gamecock big men all managed to get in foul trouble early, as each carried two or more fouls at halftime, limiting their ability to play aggressively on both the offensive and defensive ends. With 9 minutes left in the second half, and Georgia leading by 18 points, both Chatkevicius and Kacinas had fouled out of the contest, leading the Gamecocks to play rarely-utilized Brian Steele and Reggie Theus Jr. for a combined 25 minutes.
It started to snowball as Georgia kept hitting 3s. The Bulldogs opened their evening going 9-14 from long range (led by a 3-3 effort from Nemanja Djurisic), burying the Gamecocks under an avalanche of long-range shots which gave them a double-digit lead within 9 minutes, a lead that rarely slipped below that number the rest of the evening.
And after only 5 turnovers in the first half, the Gamecocks added 8 in the first 10 minutes of the second half, giving the Bulldogs the extra possessions they needed to completely foreclose any chance that Carolina might scramble to get back into the basketball game. A game where Carolina went into the half with two extra field goal attempts (against only one less free throw attempt) ended with the Bulldogs taking one extra field goal and 14 more attempts from the line.
In the end, the Gamecocks fell in Athens by a score of 97-76, one of their worst performances of the season. While the hot outside shooting of Georgia was certainly somewhat flukish, the inability of the Gamecocks to get anything from their interior players made it seem like there was never a chance they'd be able to hold Georgia to a low enough point total for their offense - really, their guards - to score enough points to win in Athens.
|Advanced Box Score|
For Georgia, it was a team effort, as five players scored in double figures on the evening, led by Djurisic, who scored 22 points on a perfect 6-6 effort from the field to go along with a 7-11 effort from the line. The Bulldogs beat South Carolina in every one of the four factors, and for the third time this season (Marshall and Texas A&M), South Carolina conceded more free throw attempts than field goal attempts.
Sindarius Thornwell led the Gamecocks in more ways than one on Wednesday night. In 29 minutes, he scored a career-best 26 points, and handed out 4 of Carolina's 8 assists. On a frustrating evening for the garnet and black, Thornwell continued to show why he's the future of the program.
As we mentioned above, the offense came entirely from the guards. Brenton Williams added 18 points on 6-11 shooting with only 2 turnovers in 35 minutes, a fine evening. And Duane Notice and Jaylen Shaw both scored double-digits, with the Canadian going 4-6 from the field (and got six more points in ten trips to the line) for 14 points against only 2 turnovers in 22 minutes, while the freshman from Hartsville added 12 points and 2 turnovers in 19 minutes. Overall, the guards played very well, and kept Carolina in the game.
Which leaves the frontcourt. The Gamecocks five interior players (Henry, Kacinas, Chatkevicius, Carrera, and Ringer) combined to shoot 1-11 from the field for 3 points, with 17 rebounds and 22 personal fouls in 70 minutes, an average of 14 minutes per player. The foul trouble on defense, and complete inability to positively impact the offense, left the Gamecocks without any answers. While the interior players always were considered likely to be the weak link on the team this season, this marks a low-water mark for the post this season, and was so bad as to make one wonder how this team can achieve goals next season, given the program did not sign a single post player in the early signing period.
Carolina falls to 0-5 in the SEC, tied for last with Auburn, who suffered an 82-74 loss in Starkville on Wednesday night to join the Gamecocks at the bottom of the standings. South Carolina isn't as bad they looked in Athens, but Georgia rode out to a big lead in part on skill and in part on luck, and while the Gamecocks threatened at times to make a bit of a game of it, substitution patterns early in the second half seemed to indicate the coaching staff wanted to get on the bus and get back to Columbia.
Carolina's stay in their Columbia will be brief, as they head to Missouri this weekend to take on the Missouri Tigers, who carry a 2-3 record in conference into the game and need a win over South Carolina in order to keep their fading NCAA hopes alive. That game tips off at 4pm ET and can be watched on SEC TV.