Shortly before Georgia's January 31 trip to Columbia, it was announced that star forward Marcus Thornton would miss the game with a concussion. With the absence and uncertainty, the Bulldogs were throttled from tip to buzzer 67-50 in Colonial Life Arena.
Eighteen days later and the Gamecocks were faced with a similar situation. USC had already arrived in Athens when head coach Frank Martin announced that forward Demetrius Henry and wing Shamiek Sheppard had been suspended for the remainder of the regular season for the dreaded "conduct detrimental to the team."
Although the roles were reversed, the result was the same on February 18 as it was on January 31: a South Carolina win. Unlike last time, this one was filled with drama, although it didn't look like that'd be the case at first.
Missing three rotation players, Henry and Sheppard to suspension as well as Stroman, missing his third consecutive game with a throat infection, the Gamecocks pounced on the 'Dawgs to an early 14-4 lead. Laimonas Chatkevicius and Tyrone Johnson combined for 11 early points. The Gamecocks were getting it done on both ends of the floor, shooting like they hadn't all season while defending like their custom. Up 22-6 with just under 10 minutes in the first half, sophomre guard Duane Notice hit double-figures first with 10 points. Ty Johnson hit three first-half 3-pointers and his last one of the half gave South Carolina a 32-13 lead with 4:18 left and forced Georgia to call a timeout. At each break, the Georgia players looked shocked and dismayed, mouths open as they stared at head coach Mark Fox for instruction.
The Gamecocks held their largest lead (21) with 3:32 left in the half and finished with a 41-23 halftme lead after shooting 58.3 percent from the field and nailing seven 3-pointers. The seven treys in the first half were the most in a half this season for South Carolina.
Georgia star Marcus Thornton didn't score for much of the first half and only took a couple shots. He hasn't earned double-figures in scoring post-concussion after scoring 10 or more in 16 of 19 games before his injury. Fox has said several times that Thornton is still finding his groove. Fox's whole team seemed to have that problem in the early period tonight but the funk invaded their bones in the second half and the game was on.
Down 18 coming out of the locker room, Georgia started the second half on a 10-2 run to reduce their deficit to 10. The 'Dawgs eventually trimmed the USC lead to eight shortly thereafter. Georgia started the second half hitting 6-of-11 from the field with three treys while South Carolina made 3-of-14, including a stretch of 10 consecutive misses.
This blown lead didn't seem like the one against Vanderbilt. If you remember, the Commodores exploded on an 18-0 run to take the lead and never look back. This one seemed somewhat subdued, or steady. Then Georgia, down 10 after a Gamecock bucket, went on a 10-0 run to tie the game at 51 with 4:31 to play.
A few things happened to cause Georgia's comeback. The first is that the Bulldogs awoke from their slobbery slumber. Besides that, the Gamecocks hit zero 3-pointers in the 15 minutes it took Georgia to tie the game after hitting seven in the first half. Georgia also ruled the boards in the second half. In the first period, USC won the rebounding battle by five, but in those 15 second half minutes, UGA led the second half battle by 12 (22-10). According to Frank Martin, his team didn't get a single whistle in the second half. I don't think it was that, just that the 'Dawgs started to get calls. They only attempted eight first half free throws, a low amount for a Georgia team that gets to the line better than just about anyone in the SEC. They received about twice as many free throw attempts in the second half.
With 2:47 left and USC up 53-51, Tyrone Johnson hit a three that had a dagger feel to it and it put his team up five. After some free throws on both ends, the Gamecocks were up three with just over a minute to go. WIth the shot clock running down, Duane Notice nailed a step-back 3-pointer to give the Gamecocks a six-point. That felt like the real dagger this time. Georgia battled back like they did after the previous trey, but eventually it was evident they built themselves a hole too deep and they weren't strong to climb out of it.
South Carolina's 64-58 win over Georgia tonight was their first SEC road win of the season and it put the Gamecocks over .500 overall (13-12, 4-9). It also proved another thing to Frank Martin, something he hopes people understand about his team. In a post-game interview with the SEC Network crew, he stated that the Kentucky game was "an aberration," saying his team had no fight then but that they "have fight," and "had fight tonight."
Ty Johnson and Duane Notice led the way with 17 each while Mindaugas Kacinas contribued 13 points and nine rebounds off the bench. Johnson shot 50 percent from the field and ended with four 3-pointers.
The Gamecocks return home to Colonial Life Arena for a Saturday afternoon match-up with Texas A&M. The Aggies (17-7, 8-4) seem to be somewhat locked into an at-large NCAA Tournament bid but it'll be a long month for teams like Texas A&M and Georgia. South Carolina is more then capable of being a a pothole in the road, as they proved tonight.