For the second consecutive year the South Carolina Gamecocks advanced to the SEC Tournament quarterfinals and for the second consecutive year they failed to advance past that around.
While this year's opportunity looked more achievable, the result was the same. Tennessee owned the Gamecocks heading into last year's game but USC had swept Georgia during the regular season, providing home of a possible semifinals appearance.
The Bulldogs 74-62 victory Friday night in Bridgestone Arena sent the Gamecocks home to Columbia, leaving Nashville after an admirable yet futile effort.
Georgia had the longest time off of any team in Nashville during the week after earning the double-bye after the regular season and being regulated to Friday's last game. Carolina was attempting its third game in three days and it showed early. UGA jumped out to an early lead but South Carolina seemed to get their legs under them after some time, tying the game at 14 with 12:16 to play.
Over the next six minutes is when the first major swing in the game took place, the ‘Dawgs outscored the Gamecocks 15-5 in the span, taking a solid lead. Georgia took a 33-26 lead into halftime and held an advantage in every major category. South Carolina went 9-of-26 from the field in the first half while Georgia shot 50 percent from the field. In the two previous meetings the Gamecocks held UGA to 30 percent shooting from the field combined, including the USC record 22 percent in the first game.
An early second half surge by Georgia, capped by a jumper by star Marcus Thornton, gave the Bulldogs a 12-point lead, their largest of the game. Adversity set in and the Gamecocks could have folded. As they had showed the night before, they were unwilling to bow down to an adverse situation.
Duane Notice happened and lock-down defense happened. The Canadian sophomore guard hit back-to-back-to-back 3-pointers as well as a couple deuces, thus thrusting the Gamecocks pack into the game over a nine-minute stretch. A Laimonas Chatevicius jumper put South Carolina ahead with 11:40 to play. During that nine-minute stretch, Georgia was held without a field by the Gamecock defense.
The Bulldogs regained the lead at 50-47 and it remained that way for a put before Sindarius Thornwell added five points in just over a minute to tie the game at 57. UGA pulled away slightly but then a Duane Notice layup brought it back to a one possession game, 63-60, with 2:25 to play.
That was the final field goal South Carolina would score for the rest of the night. Thornwell's and-1 to complete his mini-burst and Notice's layup were the only field goals the Gamecocks would convert over the last 5:22. Georgia outscored South Carolina 17-5 down the stretch, including a 7-0 run in the last 41 seconds of the game. From the 5:22 mark on, the Gamecocks went 2-of-10 from the field and 3-of-6 from the free throw line.
The Bulldogs were excellent from the line, making 23 free throws in all, 16 of them in the second half. They entered second and 15th nationally in free throw attempts entering tonight's game. Georgia also entered the SEC Tournament winning four of their last five, making them one of the hottest teams entering March's madness. Now they have won five of their six with the only blemish being a loss to No. 1 Kentucky.
Duane Notice led the way for South Carolina with 20 points, 16 of them coming in the second half. Sindarius Thornwell and Laimonas Chatkevicius both added 10 points a piece. A win would have sent South Carolina to its first SEC Tournament semifinal since 2006.
This team grew up a lot this year. There is a lot to be proud and excited about as disappointing as tonight's outcome is. I'll have a season recap soon but this has been your coverage of the 2014-15 South Carolina Men's Basketball team.