What a long, strange journey it’s been.
From a horrifyingly bad performance in the non-conference portion of the schedule to notching 11 SEC wins (good for third-best in program history) and finishing fourth in what has become a much more competitive college basketball conference, the South Carolina Gamecocks ended their Jekyll and Hyde regular season on a high note, dominating the Georgia Bulldogs 66-46 on Senior Day Saturday.
The victory assured the Gamecocks of a double-bye into the SEC Tournament’s quarterfinal round, which begins on Friday. It was also the Gamecocks’ sixth straight win over Georgia, which is a fun and worthy achievement in any sport.
As you’d hope for them to, South Carolina’s seniors enjoyed big performances against the Bulldogs. Chris Silva, who went on a long, strange and incredible journey himself throughout his four-year career with the Gamecocks, put up 24 points and 10 rebounds in another dominant showing. Hassani Gravett, who is one of the most improved players I’ve seen on a Gamecocks’ roster in quite some time, finished with 12 points, and grad transfer Tre Campbell had 11. Freshman Keyshawn Bryant’s 14 points rounded out the double-figure scoring, giving us another taste of hope for what’s to come when Silva, et al, depart.
The Gamecocks and Bulldogs battled back and forth in the typically sloppy fashion these teams employ against each other throughout a good portion of the first half. But then South Carolina exploded offensively, and took a 44-21 lead to the locker room.
An ice cold second half threatened to spoil the party for the Gamecocks, as USC shot just 18.2 percent from the field and got much more careless with the ball. Thankfully, Georgia was even worse, and failed to make a shot for the final 10 minutes, allowing South Carolina (16-15, 11-7 SEC) to rest on the lead it had built.
Georgia coach Tom Crean was as awestruck as any of us at the turnaround the Gamecocks authored this season, even stumping for Frank Martin to be in award contention:
Tom Crean: Not only should Frank Martin be considered for SEC Coach of the Year, he should be considered for National Coach of the Year.— David Cloninger (@DCPandC) March 9, 2019
Given the troubles with injury and the sheer amount of first-year players on the roster, it really is an achievement that South Carolina is in this position. If you threw up your hands and assumed all was lost after the Stony Brook and Wyoming losses, you could be forgiven for doing so — few would have predicted this, even the most optimistic among us. And speaking of injury (and optimism), Martin indicated that star freshman A.J. Lawson, who’s been on the shelf due to a sprained ankle, could return for the SEC Tournament.
Frank Martin on AJ Lawson: "He tried to go today. Push come to shove, he probably could have played five, six minutes. That's not the right thing to do." #Gamecocks freshman progressing toward being available for SEC Tournament.— Andrew Ramspacher (@ARamspacher) March 9, 2019
It’s tournament time, y’all. Let’s see if the Gamecocks can conjure up some March magic.