It was the final home game for the Gamecocks, and Senior Night for Frank Martin's first crop of seniors in Columbia. Two men from that group, Mindaugas Kacinas and Michael Carrera, led the team on an early charge, obtaining an 8-2 lead over the Bulldogs three minutes into the game.
South Carolina wasn't able to keep up their early pace, following their three-minute storm with a four-minute drought. It corresponded with a 10-0 Georgia run to give the Bulldogs the lead. Despite a Kacinas 3-pointer to stop the streak, USC was never able to regain the lead in the first half. Georgia stretched their lead to as much as eight but the Gamecocks reduced it to five entering halftime.
Kacinas made three treys in the first half but his teammates went 1-of-10 from the field in the first eight minutes of the game. UGA played some zone defense and it hurt the Gamecocks, forcing shots from behind the arc to be close to 50 percent of their first half attempts. Outside shooting is not even close to being this team's strength and Georgia smartly forced them into it. The Bulldogs have the second best field goal percentage defense in the SEC for a reason.
It got worse for USC immediately following the buzzer as UGA rattled off four points to increase their lead to nine over the home team. The Gamecocks responded quickly though thanks to a string of baskets from the Lithuanians and a pair of buckets from Sindarius Thornwell. The 8-0 run brought South Carolina within one of Georgia's lead and forced the Bulldogs to call an early timeout.
One of the ugliest stretches of the season followed as USC missed six consecutive shots and turned the ball over four times in a five-minute span. Luckily, Georgia was only able to increase their lead to just five despite South Carolina's mistakes.
Carrera, this team's emotional leader, struggled for 90 percent of his Senior Night. He missed three of his first 16 attempts from the field. He never gave up and he finally broke through. With USC down five, Carrera went on a 7-0 run of his own to give South Carolina the lead for the first time since the game's opening minutes.
With the lead and Colonial Life Arena rockin', Carrera set his team up for a big win in their home finale. The momentum was turning and the building was alive. Georgia has struggled all season on the road like South Carolina, yet in the most hostile of environments, they rebounded with a 7-0 run of their own to take the lead with under four minutes to play.
Three consecutive baskets for the home team gave them a three-point lead with 3:32 left to play. From that moment until 38 seconds were left in the game, the Bulldogs scored 11 points. The Gamecocks scored zero. USC converted three 3-pointers in the final seconds to give them some kind of life at the end but UGA hit their free throws to seal the win.
The loss could leave South Carolina on the NCAA Tournament bubble. A home loss to a non-tournament team should be avoided like the plague. USC's bubble status probably has more to do with Saturday's game than this one. If they lose to Arkansas on the road, something that is certainly possible, the Gamecocks could be in trouble with a strong performance in the SEC Tournament being their only rescue.