Hassani Gravett collected Felipe Haase’s short pass and carefully weaved his way up the floor, allowing the traffic to flow in front of him as the seconds ticked away in the first half. The South Carolina point guard finally found his landing spot on the right wing. With no Georgia Bulldog in his immediate way, Gravett rose from 21 feet and swished a 3.
This was how the opening period ended Wednesday at Colonial Life Arena. USC-UGA, a biannual rock-fight between a couple defensive-minded programs, produced a handful of highlights. The Gamecocks were featured more prominently in the show, particularly during a late first-half stretch that sparked their 66-57 win.
“That end of the half run gave us momentum,” said senior guard Wes Myers. “ … It was big.”
With 6:16 remaining in the first half, Chris Silva missed a jumper. The newsworthiness here is USC was 5 of 24 from the field, but still winning the game, 19-17. The Gamecocks had been in this position before. On Jan. 13 in Athens, they beat the Bulldogs despite an eye-popping field goal percentage of 27.1. But that was a dangerous formula to dial up again. USC surely had to produce some offense to sweep Georgia for a second consecutive year.
Some ended up being more than enough.
South Carolina (15-13, 6-9 SEC) closed the first half by making eight of 11 shots, stretching its lead from two to 15. It scored 22 points – against UGA’s 10 – over the final 5:45.
The Gamecocks made only 21 shots (on 68 attempts) for the evening, but 13 came from beyond the arc. Myers had five 3s, Frank Booker four, Haase two and Gravett two.
“We’ve played them so much, we got a pretty good feel for what they’re going to do,” said Carolina coach Frank Martin, who improved to 6-8 against Georgia. “We needed to have some courage, our guards, and jump up and make some 3s. Felipe needed to jump up and make a couple.”
UGA (15-12, 6-9) entered as the league leader in field goal percentage defense. Mark Fox’s team, as most do when facing the Gamecocks this season, made a concerted effort to pack the lane and limit touches for Silva. The Bulldogs dared Martin’s side to beat them from deep.
After all, USC entered next-to-last in the SEC in 3-point shooting.
“Their team made 3s a little bit out of character than they’ve shown to shoot the 3,” Fox admitted.
The Gamecocks made 41.9 percent of their 3s, their best performance in eight games. Gravett’s dagger at the end of the first half was book-ended by a triple with 1:25 left in the game that stretched the lead to nine.
Gravett finished with eight points, Myers had 15, Silva had 15, Booker had 14 and Haase had 12.
“Going into the game, we knew they were going to sag in the paint and protect the paint,” Myers said. “So we all just got extra shots up the last two days and really grinded and focused on that.”
Haase, a freshman forward, reached double figures in scoring for only the second time in SEC play.
“Coach Frank told us that we were going to have to make shots this game,” Haase said. “And we did. We made 13 3s. I think that’s the biggest difference.”
The Gamecocks also committed a season-low five turnovers, while forcing 17. Their defensive pressure led to two errant Bulldog passes in the final three minutes of the first half. USC capitalized on both of them with buckets, including a Booker 3 at the 2:16 mark.
Gravett’s buzzer-beater came after a rushed shot by Georgia’s Yante Maten. The Bulldogs, who got 13 points and 10 rebounds from Maten, never got closer than five in the second half.
USC will try for its first three-game winning streak since December on Saturday at Mississippi State.
“It’s late February,” Martin said, “you get a home win against a conference opponent, you take it and you run.”
GEORGIA (15-12): Claxton 1-2 1-2 3, Maten 5-13 3-3 13, Hammonds 3-7 0-0 7, Parker 1-7 1-2 3, Jackson 5-11 1-2 14, Ogbeide 1-4 0-0 2, Edwards 0-1 2-2 2, Kante 1-1 0-0 2, Wilridge 0-1 0-0 0, Diatta 0-1 0-0 0, Crump 3-5 1-1 9, Hightower 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 21-55 9-12 57.
SOUTH CAROLINA (15-13): Kotsar 1-10 0-1 2, Silva 3-7 9-10 15, Minaya 0-7 0-0 0, Hinson 0-0 0-0 0, Gravett 3-10 0-0 8, Haase 5-11 0-0 12, Cudd 0-1 0-0 0, Myers 5-9 0-0 15, Booker 4-13 2-3 14. Totals 21-68 11-14 66.
Halftime—South Carolina 42-27. 3-Point Goals—Georgia 6-19 (Jackson 3-6, Crump 2-3, Hammonds 1-3, Wilridge 0-1, Hightower 0-1, Diatta 0-1, Maten 0-2, Parker 0-2), South Carolina 13-31 (Myers 5-7, Booker 4-9, Gravett 2-5, Haase 2-6, Minaya 0-4). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Georgia 40 (Maten 10), South Carolina 37 (Kotsar 9). Assists—Georgia 7 (Jackson 3), South Carolina 12 (Gravett 5). Total Fouls—Georgia 18, South Carolina 19. A—11,529 (18,000).