ATHENS, Ga. – South Carolina was energetic early against Georgia on Saturday — down one point four minutes in and holding its own after a disastrous nine-point first half against the Bulldogs two weeks ago.
Then USC’s shots stopped falling, while Georgia went on a 17-2 run. The Gamecocks continued to shoot poorly the rest of the game, making one 3-pointer in 19 attempts. South Carolina shot 28 percent, its low in SEC games this season.
The Bulldogs dominated on the boards and in the paint to win handily 64-48 at Stegeman Coliseum.
“You saw a little bit on our guys’ faces when we got down again, kind of the ‘Oh no,’ “ USC coach Darrin Horn said. “And there’s not a whole lot we can do about that except go through it and understand the maturity that it takes to continue to play through that.”
It was the second Saturday in a row that South Carolina was manhandled most of the game. Kentucky routed USC 90-59 in Lexington last week by taking a 29-point first-half lead as USC shot 22 percent. The loss was by the biggest margin since Horn arrived in Columbia three seasons ago.
South Carolina was coming off its first win in three weeks and best offensive effort in a month with a 79-73 victory over Ole Miss on Tuesday. USC has lost four consecutive away games by an average of 17.8 points.
South Carolina has lost six of its past seven games and eight of its past 10.
“It’s very frustrating, but we can’t let it get to us,” said senior forward Sam Muldrow, who had 10 points and seven rebounds. “We’ve just got to try to get a hustle play, an energy play to get ourselves going. Anybody just doing something, a blocked shot, a charge, a dunk.”
Horn said he understands players might be frustrated but “at some point you’ve got to take responsibility and an ownership in what’s going on. I think that’s part of our maturing process, not looking around and thinking, ‘Maybe it wasn’t me.’”
Horn said the Gamecocks need to score in transition and get rebounds. They did neither. The Bulldogs outrebounded USC 42-32 and outscored South Carolina 30-12 in the paint.
USC forward Malik Cooke led the Gamecocks with 11 points and nine rebounds. But South Carolina’s guards struggled, combining to shoot 16.7 percent from the field and 6.3 percent from the 3. Leading scorer Bruce Ellington was held to single-digit points for the third straight game.
The Bulldogs (19-9, 8-6) dominated the Gamecocks (14-13, 5-9) in the first half for the second time this month.
But Georgia took a 39-22 lead in Athens with huge edges in rebounds and points in the paint. The Bulldogs made four first-half dunks.
Unable to get inside Georgia’s defense, USC failed to make a 3-pointer in the first half. The Gamecocks missed all 22 of their first-half long-range attempts against the Bulldogs in their two meetings this season.
There was no second-half rally for USC like the one mounted when the teams met at Colonial Life Arena. The Gamecocks scored 47 second-half points and came within two points of the Bulldogs on Feb. 12 before falling 60-56.
On Saturday, South Carolina could not take advantage of Georgia misses and turnovers at the start of the second half to eat into the Bulldog lead. The Gamecocks shot less than 30 percent, while Georgia got back in sync and started scoring inside again. The Bulldogs led by as much as 24 points.
“This is a team we’ve already come back on, and this was a team that has lost a lot of leads,” Horn said of Georgia. “We talked about that before the game. We talked about that after the game. But once you dug the big hole .. it was too much to overcome.”
SOUTH CAROLINA (14-13) | Richardson 0-3 0-0 0, Cooke 4-9 3-4 11, Ellington 3-12 0-0 7, Harris 2-2 2-3 6, Muldrow 4-8 2-2 10, Smith 0-7 2-2 2, Galloway 3-14 4-5 10, Jackson 1-2 0-2 2, Jefferson 0-0 0-0 0, Slawson 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 17-60 13-18 48.
GEORGIA (19-9) | Leslie 6-11 3-4 15, Ware 1-4 2-2 5, Robinson 3-10 1-1 8, Thompkins 9-16 0-1 20, Price 4-5 6-8 14, Thornton 0-2 0-0 0, Barnes 0-1 2-3 2, V. Williams 0-0 0-0 0, Bucklin 0-0 0-0 0, D. Williams 0-1 0-0 0, Nolte 0-0 0-0 0, Brantley 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-50 14-19 64.
Halftime: Georgia 39-22. 3-Point Goals: South Carolina 1-19 (Ellington 1-5, Cooke 0-1, Muldrow 0-1, Slawson 0-1, Smith 0-3, Richardson 0-3, Galloway 0-5), Georgia 4-11 (Thompkins 2-3, Robinson 1-3, Ware 1-3, Leslie 0-2). Fouled Out: None. Rebounds: South Carolina 34 (Cooke 9), Georgia 42 (Thompkins 8). Assists_South Carolina 4 (Smith 3), Georgia 12 (Leslie 6). Total Fouls: South Carolina 17, Georgia 12. Technical: Cooke. Attendance: 10,355.