On the day South Carolina celebrated its 1997 SEC regular-season championship, the current Gamecocks kept their own championship hopes alive as a McKie clinched the game.
Justin McKie hit the two biggest free throws of his career to give USC a four-point lead with 7.7 seconds to go, and the No. 19 Gamecocks held on to beat Georgia 77-75 Saturday. USC took over sole possession of first place in the SEC and swept the Bulldogs in the season series, a year after losing to them three times.
McKie has always had undue burdens on him as the son of USC’s career-leading scorer. He wanted to transfer early in his career, but his father and grandfather wouldn’t allow it.
Saturday made all the waiting worth it. McKie wasn’t thinking of his dad (BJ, who lost twice to Georgia in that 1997 season) as he toed the line, only thinking of winning the game and getting nemesis J.J. Frazier out of USC’s hair for good.
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“Got to knock down both of them,” McKie said. “That’s all I was thinking.”
He did, USC (19-4, 9-1 SEC) survived and the Gamecocks added another impressive win to their résumé. It wasn’t the way they wanted to play most of the time, but USC kept finding shots as the Bulldogs (13-10, 4-6) refused to lay down.
“We weren’t very good today defensively,” USC coach Frank Martin said. “We were a little slow, sluggish, for lack of a better word, but I think Georgia had a lot to do with that. But you know what, we beat a top-50 RPI team in February.”
USC smoked 11 3-pointers as its interior was again hampered by foul trouble, Sindarius Thornwell and Duane Notice contributing four each. McKie popped a 3 with 3:17 to go for a nine-point lead, then P.J. Dozier and Thornwell handled the scoring as USC tried to outlast the clock.
Frazier soared to the rim to make it 76-73 with nine seconds to play, but the Gamecocks saw McKie open at halfcourt and threw to him. McKie veered away from contact to dribble time, but Yante Maten grabbed just enough of his jersey for the foul.
Free-throw shooting was a problem all day, USC missing six of its first seven and finishing 14 of 25. But McKie’s were nothing but net for the win as the Bulldogs tipped in a bucket at the buzzer.
The sold-out, towel-waving crowd at Colonial Life Arena kept its energy throughout, spurring USC through an unusually sloppy defensive performance as Georgia shot 49 percent. Frazier and Maten had 18 each as the Gamecocks’ posts were again mostly missing.
Yet Maik Kotsar, playing his best game in a month, picked up USC with several hustle plays and big free throws. He refused to stand idly by as the Gamecocks’ offense stalled, making things happen with his hook shot or diving for loose balls.
Dozier had 21 and Thornwell 18 as USC salted it, clinching at least a .500 finish in the SEC for just the seventh time in 26 years. Thornwell has forever preached one game at a time, but even he had to admit this one meant a little more.
“(The Georgia sweep last year) we feel like kept us out of the tournament. That’s the thing that kind of killed our season,” he said. “It was on me a lot, with me blowing the game with a turnover last year. Justin never let that settle in.”
McKie, beside Thornwell at the table, grinned.
NOTE: Thornwell moved into sixth place on USC’s career scoring chart, passing Mike Dunleavy. Thornwell needs 143 points to tie Jimmy Foster for fifth.
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GEORGIA (13-10): Maten 6-13 6-9 18, Ogbeide 1-3 3-4 5, Parker 3-6 5-5 11, Frazier 5-11 7-8 18, Jackson 3-7 1-2 9, Diatta 0-1 0-0 0, Edwards 3-4 0-0 6, Wilridge 0-0 0-0 0, Harris 3-4 0-0 8. Totals 24-49 22-28 75.
SOUTH CAROLINA (19-4): Silva 1-6 0-2 2, Keita 0-0 0-0 0, Notice 5-8 1-1 15, Thornwell 6-17 2-4 18, Dozier 7-14 6-12 21, Kotsar 2-5 3-4 7, Gueye 0-0 0-0 0, Blanton 0-0 0-0 0, Felder 3-4 0-0 7, Gravett 0-1 0-0 0, McKie 2-5 2-2 7. Totals 26-60 14-25 77.
Halftime: 38-38. 3-Point Goals: Georgia 5-9 (Harris 2-3, Jackson 2-5, Frazier 1-1), South Carolina 11-24 (Notice 4-7, Thornwell 4-7, Felder 1-2, Dozier 1-3, McKie 1-4, Gravett 0-1). Fouled Out: Silva, Kotsar, Maten, Harris. Rebounds: Georgia 32 (Ogbeide 11), South Carolina 24 (Thornwell, Kotsar 7). Assists: Georgia 12 (Frazier 5), South Carolina 13 (Notice, Dozier 3). Total Fouls: Georgia 20, South Carolina 22.