The storylines were there for a huge comeback by South Carolina on Saturday.
The veteran breaking a school record. The role player starring against his old coach. The seldom-played freshman getting key points. The leading scorer gamely playing on one leg.
The Gamecocks had scored nine points in the first half and fell behind by 23 midway through the second half against Georgia, but managed to get within two points with 84 seconds left.
South Carolina’s 32-13 run in the final 11 minutes electrified the crowd at Colonial Life Arena. But the Gamecocks fell short, losing 60-56 to the Bulldogs for their fourth consecutive loss at home and fifth in six games overall.
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The Gamecocks (13-10, 4-6 SEC) surged back as the Bulldogs shot 4-for-11 and committed six turnovers in the final 15 minutes.
Reserve forward Malik Cooke — playing against his former coach at Nevada, Mark Fox — scored 10 of his team-high 15 points during the run. Senior forward Sam Muldrow, who set the school career blocked shots mark during the comeback, added 10 points in the rally.
Freshman forward R.J. Slawson, who has played the fewest minutes of any Gamecock this season, came through with six points. The state’s reigning Mr. Basketball also blocked and recovered an inbounds pass with three minutes left.
The key was USC made 14 consecutive free throws while eating away at Georgia’s lead.
But with 55 seconds remaining and USC down four points, Muldrow was fouled on a 3-point attempt — and missed the first two attempts before making the third.
Georgia gave USC another chance when Dustin Ware missed a 3-pointer as time expired on the shot clock and Muldrow snagged the rebound, giving USC possession down 59-56 with 12 seconds left.
During a timeout in the USC huddle, Horn looked to point guard Bruce Ellington, USC’s leading scorer. The freshman had been hobbling with a bruised left calf in the first half, which later began cramping. He had two points, a career low, but did not want to come out of the game.
“The bigger the moment the more he wants to be a part of it,” Horn said. “I asked him, ‘I’ll run it to you, if you want it.’ (He said,) ‘Absolutely, I want it coach.’ ”
Ellington got the ball on the right side of the arc with a misdirection play, but Georgia forward Trey Thompkins worked his way around a screen and blocked the shot with five seconds remaining.
Georgia led 28-9 at halftime as USC was 4-of-28 shooting and outrebounded 29-15. The nine points was were the team’s all-time low in SEC play, breaking the record of 13 in 2007.
Horn called the half “an absolute fluke. We got good looks and obviously our confidence was shook with our young group.”
South Carolina came out hot in the second half, surpassing its first-half total within the first three minutes. But Georgia responded and extended its lead to 23 points before USC mounted its comeback.
“For us to bounce back and to fight the way we did and get the contributions we did from so many different guys is really a step for our team,” Horn said. “It hurts. And it should when you play that hard and fight and like we did. Those are the things you grow from.”
Georgia (17-7, 6-4) won its third consecutive SEC game, the first time that has happened since 2007.
In the Hoop
... Muldrow blocked four shots to break the school record of 249 set by Brandon Wallace from 2003-07. Muldrow has 251 blocks. He set the mark stuffing a layup by Chris Barnes with eight minutes left in the game.
Starting forward Lakeem Jackson was still bothered by a sore left foot, scoring four points and grabbing one rebound in 20 minutes.
Starting forward Damontre Harris played 15 minutes with a knee that stiffened after it was banged in practice on Friday.
Darrin Horn postgame
Sam Muldrow, Malik Cooke postgame
|GEORGIA||Min||FG M-A||FT M-A||REB O-T||A||PF||PTS|
Percentages: FG .460, FT .600.
3-Point Goals: 5-12, .417 (Leslie 1-1, Robinson 1-2, Ware 1-3, Brantley 1-3, Thompkins 1-3).
Team Rebounds: 4.
Blocked Shots: 6 (Barnes 2, Thompkins 2, Robinson, Price).
Turnovers: 17 (Brantley 4, Robinson 3, Price 3, Ware 2, Leslie 2, D. Williams, Thornton, Thompkins).
Steals: 5 (Ware 2, Thompkins 2, Robinson).
Technical Fouls: None.
|SOUTH CAROLINA||Min||FG M-A||FT M-A||REB O-T||A||PF||PTS|
Percentages: FG .305, FT .762.
3-Point Goals: 4-23, .174 (Muldrow 2-4, Richardson 2-5, Slawson 0-1, Smith 0-1, Galloway 0-3, Cooke 0-3, Ellington 0-6).
Team Rebounds: 4.
Blocked Shots: 6 (Muldrow 4, Jefferson, Cooke).
Turnovers: 9 (Smith 2, Muldrow 2, Ellington, Richardson, Jackson, Galloway, Jefferson).
Steals: 8 (Cooke 2, Muldrow 2, Jefferson, Jackson, Harris, Galloway).
Technical Fouls: None.
Officials: Gary Maxwell, Mike Nance, Ron Groover.