Frank Martin blamed the man in the mirror. His players blamed themselves. Whatever is going on in the USC locker room, the good will from the Gamecocks’ big win against Arkansas is rapidly fading.
A nip-and-tuck affair in the first half Saturday gradually got away from the Gamecocks as the clock wound down and Georgia left Colonial Life Arena with a 67-56 victory that fittingly came on Groundhog Day.
Like the movie of the same name, recurring bugaboos made Saturday’s game look like many of USC’s previous setbacks.
After the 75-36 debacle in Florida, the Gamecocks returned home with a decent possibility of getting back on track against a Georgia team that, while playing better, entered Saturday’s game with a 9-11 record and a 3-4 mark in SEC play.
However, poor movement away from the ball on offense, streaky shooting and a few untimely defensive breakdowns eventually allowed the Bulldogs to pull away.
“Obviously, I’m extremely disappointed,” Martin said. “I’ve done just a poor job this past week of getting the guys ready to play. “I’ve got to do my job a heckuva lot better,” Martin continued. “My staff has been on me about that and I’m not going to expand on that. That’s between me and my staff and the players. I’ve done a bad job this week.”
The first half was entertaining for fans of star players. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope nearly matched his season average with 16 points while USC’s Michael Carrera put on a complete-game clinic, scoring 15 points with four rebounds, a nifty assist on a Bruce Ellington layup and three steals as USC went into the break with a 30-29 lead.
“Whatever our (scouting) report was, either it was wrong or it we didn’t listen to it because he killed us in the first half,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. “He just wore us out. I did challenge our guys at halftime because I thought he really out-toughed us on some plays in the first half.”
More on Carrera in a bit.
USC shot 39.3 percent in the first half and trended downward after halftime. Meanwhile, Georgia kept up its torrid shooting and a game that had featured 13 lead changes bloated to a 46-38 Bulldogs lead with 11:48 to play.
Ellington then provided a spark with a 3-point basket and added a steal, a layup and a free throw to get the crowd of 11,327 back into the game pull USC back to within 46-44.
Donte Williams and Vincent Williams would respond with five points in quick succession to push Georgia’s lead back to seven, 51-46. After his big first half, Caldwell-Pope didn’t score again until the 4:29 remained, but that 3-point basket was a dagger, staking Georgia to a 59-49 lead.
Georgia outrebounded the Gamecocks 30-27 and shot 58.1 percent from the field, including 60.9 percent in the second half. USC never found consistency, shooting 35.8 percent for the game.
Stagnancy on offense was the familiar diagnosis offered by Martin, Ellington and Brian Richardson. The cure, according the players?
“Trust is the first thing that comes to my mind,” Ellington said. “Trusting the guys we have on the court. Do what we’ve got to do to win.”
Said Richardson, “Just trust and believe we can do it. Stop talking about it and doing it.”
Another big factor in the second half was the disappearance of Carrera, whose free throw 29 seconds after halftime was his last point. He finished with 16 points while Ellington had 14. Pope led all scorers with 19 while Charles Mann shook off a first-half shoulder injury to finish with 11. Kenny Gaines also had 11 for the Bulldogs.
By winning their third in a row and fourth in their past five games, the Bulldogs improved to 10-11 overall and 4-4 in the SEC.
USC fell to 12-9 overall and 2-6 against the friendliest part of its SEC slate.
“The games get harder; they don’t get easier,” said Martin, who then expounded on Carrera’s desire, his strong first half play and how the entire team played with that intensity until this past week.
“Is that their fault? No, it’s my fault,” Martin said. “Because I haven’t paid attention to it, I haven’t demanded as much as I need to. We’ll fix that.
“When I don’t do my job, I’m a big boy. I look in that mirror and tell that guy the truth.”
D. Williams 2-3 0-0 4, Florveus 1-2 0-1 2, Caldwell-Pope 7-11 2-3 19, V. Williams 1-2 2-2 5, Brantley 1-2 0-0 3, Mann 3-4 5-6 11, Dixon 0-1 0-0 0, Gaines 4-8 2-2 11, Morris 0-0 0-2 0, Cannon 4-6 0-0 8, Djurisic 2-4 0-0 4. Totals 25-43 11-16 67.
SOUTH CAROLINA (12-9)
Chatkevicius 0-1 0-0 0, Carrera 5-13 5-6 16, Jackson 1-3 0-0 2, Smith 1-4 0-0 3, Ellington 5-12 1-1 14, Williams 1-4 0-0 2, Richardson 5-10 0-0 12, Kacinas 1-2 3-4 5, Leonard 0-2 0-0 0, Slawson 0-2 2-2 2. Totals 19-53 11-13 56.
Halftime: South Carolina 30-29. 3-Point Goals: Georgia 6-13 (Caldwell-Pope 3-6, Brantley 1-2, Gaines 1-2, V. Williams 1-2, Mann 0-1), South Carolina 7-20 (Ellington 3-6, Richardson 2-6, Carrera 1-1, Smith 1-3, Leonard 0-1, Slawson 0-1, Williams 0-2). Fouled Out: None. Rebounds: Georgia 30 (Caldwell-Pope 7), South Carolina 27 (Carrera 7). Assists: Georgia 14 (Mann 6), South Carolina 9 (Ellington, Jackson, Smith 2). Total Fouls: Georgia 15, South Carolina 19. Attendance: 11,327.