If J.J. Frazier wants to go pro after this season, South Carolina will help him pack.
Georgia’s electrifying junior guard stunned the Gamecocks for the third time this season and the fourth straight time over the past two years, scoring the Bulldogs’ final three points as he erased a short-lived USC lead on Friday. Georgia bounced the Gamecocks out of the SEC tournament, 65-64, and into a waiting game.
USC (24-8) is most likely still in the NCAA tournament, the sheer number of its wins and a couple of notable victories (at Texas A&M, at Ole Miss) pushing the Gamecocks in. But they’ll have to sweat the bid until it comes – at an already-announced watch party for fans on Sunday – with the trepidation reserved for teams that suffer early exits on conference tournament weekend.
The sooner teams stop getting talked about on the final weekend, the worse off they’re going to be. The Gamecocks were comfortably in the tournament projections before the game and they should remain there.
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But if some more major upsets happen, or another SEC team makes a run through Nashville and takes a spot reserved for someone else …
No use thinking about it now. What’s done is done.
And USC was done in by Frazier and Georgia. Again.
Frazier dribbled through all five USC defenders, going from near midcourt to the hole in less than seven seconds to tie the game at 64 with 24 seconds to play. The Gamecocks didn’t call timeout, Sindarius Thornwell holding the ball at the top of the key as the clock wound under 10 seconds.
Thornwell made his move but Frazier was right there with him. A low dribble was met by Frazier’s hand, he knocked the ball loose and Thornwell unthinkingly fouled him with 2.1 seconds to go.
“I didn’t know the situation, which is a mental mistake by me,” said Thornwell, who scored 23 points. “I thought we were down when I turned the ball over, so it was like a reaction to go for the ball. There’s no excuse – I let my team down.”
“Obviously, the end of that last possession is not something that he’s real proud of, or me or anybody,” coach Frank Martin said. “But if it’s not for him, we don’t win 24 games. If it’s not for him, we don’t finish third in league play.
“If it’s not for him, we’re not in the situation that we were in at the end of tonight’s game.”
USC was again left staring at a game it lost when it knew exactly what it had to do to win. The Gamecocks would have to match Georgia’s physical nature and get to the free-throw line. They would have to control the glass. They would have to be ready, either by answering or stopping, Frazier when he inevitably took over.
They failed at the worst times.
There was once again a large discrepancy in fouls, USC one of the nation’s best at getting to the line but shooting 12 less than Georgia (27 to 15). The Gamecocks were on the boards early but not late, the Bulldogs finishing with one more rebound, 14 offensive, and 15 second-chance points.
The last two were crucial. SEC Sixth Man of the Year Duane Notice bricked a free throw that would have given USC the lead, but Marcus Stroman was fouled and swished two shots for a two-point advantage. Frazier drove but Thornwell blocked the shot; the carom went to Charles Mann and he again got the ball to Frazier.
USC had Frazier spaced well out, but he cut around Mindaugas Kacinas and the rest of the Gamecocks were too slow to react. He was already in the lane and throwing up a shot that naturally banked in with 24 seconds to go.
“We’re going to come ball-screen 150 times for him, and your ball-screen defense has to be good,” Martin said. “And coming down the stretch, we made three mistakes on ball-screen defense and he made us pay all three times.”
Thornwell had the ball and was calling a play. Nobody moved to try to set a screen against Frazier and Thornwell dribbled right into the trap. Then, thinking USC was trailing, he fouled.
“It hurts him that what happened happened because he cares so much,” Martin said. “He’ll be fine.”
Frazier intentionally missed his second free throw and it bounded high off the rim, where it was swatted by Georgia to midcourt and then batted in the air. USC was again left shaking its head at a lost opportunity.
Yet the next opportunity isn’t cast away. The Gamecocks may have dropped a seed or two, but they should still hear their name called on Sunday.
“If the third-place team that set a school record for regular-season wins, that won 11 league games, didn’t lose a single game in non-conference play, whose opponents had the seventh-toughest schedule in the country, is not worthy of the NCAA, then we’ve got a problem in our business,” Martin said. “I find it hard to believe that, if your numbers and everything you do say that you’re solidly in an NCAA tournament, that because you lose a game against another NCAA team on a neutral site, that that knocks you out of the NCAA tournament.”
Frazier’s layup where he drove nearly half the court through all of USC’s defense for the layup set up the last play.
Star of the game: Laimonas Chatkevicius played a fine game, scoring 14 points with nine rebounds. His late two buckets helped USC build a lead.
Play of the game: Frazier’s steal of Thornwell. He was matched up on the guy Georgia knew would take the last shot and he did what great players do.
Stat of the game: The Gamecocks started 3-of-15 from the field as Georgia couldn’t shoot and couldn’t hold onto the ball. Make a few more of those – at least three of which were missed fast-break layups – and there’s no need to try for a game-winning shot.
FROM THE BASELINE
Call it both ways: Martin was not happy with the way the USC-Georgia game in Columbia was called. The officials let physical play go under the basket, and there were a couple of non-called fouls that would have been ejectable fouls in other games. He let folks know about it, too.
It happened again Friday. Thornwell and Chatkevicius were being pounded under the rim with no calls while USC would get whistled for side-swiping someone on a drive from the wing. Mann created contact on his drives but was rewarded for it. The Gamecocks have to get to the line to win and they did shoot 15 free throws – but there were a lot more that were left on the floor.
Non-factor: P.J. Dozier can impact a game, which is why he’s been the starting point guard most of the season and why he was re-elevated into the lineup with Michael Carrera out. Yet he does no good on the bench.
He played seven minutes because of foul trouble. He had two in the first three minutes, and that’s after he started the scoring with a steal-and-dunk. He got his third in the first four seconds of the second half.
It’d be one thing if he was getting rung up on bogus calls. But it’s the same problem – after 31 games, Dozier still didn’t know on Friday to keep his hands to himself.
Raging Bull: Carrera ran at practice Friday and wanted to play, but Martin wasn’t going to risk his health. And he hasn’t actually practiced since the injury, meaning he’d be rustier than a Revolutionary War musket if he played.
Hopefully he’ll be available for the NCAA tournament. It would be a shame if he couldn’t play in the one game he’s fought for four years to play in.
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Maten 6-15 5-7 17, Mann 4-8 2-4 10, Gaines 1-6 4-4 7, Frazier 6-14 7-10 20, Ogbeide 0-3 2-2 2, Jackson II 0-0 0-0 0, Wilridge 1-1 0-0 3, Kessler 1-1 0-0 2, Geno 1-2 0-0 2, Edwards 1-4 0-0 2. Totals 21-54 20-27 65.
SOUTH CAROLINA (24-8)
Thornwell 9-17 2-3 23, Notice 2-13 2-4 7, Chatkevicius 6-10 2-2 14, Dozier 1-3 0-0 2, Kacinas 2-5 2-4 7, Stroman 2-8 2-2 7, Doby 0-1 0-0 0, McKie 0-2 0-0 0, Silva 2-3 0-0 4. Totals 24-62 10-15 64.
Halftime_South Carolina 29-26. 3-Point Goals_Georgia 3-12 (Wilridge 1-1, Gaines 1-3, Frazier 1-5, Geno 0-1, Mann 0-2), South Carolina 6-19 (Thornwell 3-7, Kacinas 1-2, Stroman 1-2, Notice 1-7, McKie 0-1). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Georgia 39 (Maten 12), South Carolina 38 (Chatkevicius 9). Assists_Georgia 7 (Mann 3), South Carolina 7 (Stroman 3). Total Fouls_Georgia 16, South Carolina 23.