David Cloninger

That guy again – J.J. Frazier already on Gamecocks’ minds

Georgia Bulldogs guard J.J. Frazier (30) celebrates a three pointer against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the second half at Colonial Life Arena.
Georgia Bulldogs guard J.J. Frazier (30) celebrates a three pointer against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the second half at Colonial Life Arena. USA TODAY

Sindarius Thornwell listed reasons why South Carolina missed last year’s NCAA Tournament, despite winning 24 regular-season games.

Losing at Missouri. Losing at Mississippi State. Losing at Alabama.

“And those three losses to Georgia,” he said, hollowly. “We can’t lose three straight to those guys.”

Thornwell was sitting a flight of stairs away from the spot where the Bulldogs clinched their third consecutive win over USC – and it was a mistake by Thornwell that helped it happen.

J.J. Frazier, who’d cut out USC’s heart in each regular-season game and the previous year’s SEC Tournament, wove through five USC defenders in seven seconds to tie the game at 64. The Gamecocks had the ball, though, and all of Bridgestone Arena knew who was getting it.

Thornwell took his time, dribbled clock and made his move as Frazier, his close pal, guarded him. Thornwell bounced the ball low, Frazier snaked a lightning-quick hand, knocked it loose – and Thornwell unthinkingly fouled him.

Frazier’s free throw with 2.1 seconds to play decided the game, and while there were other factors, it played into USC’s NCAA snub.

“Me and J.J., we’re boys, we played against each other through high school and now college,” Thornwell said. “It’s played through my mind because I felt like I should have taken care of the ball more, should have taken better care of the ball.”

Frazier walked into the building soon after as a preseason first-team all-SEC honoree. The play, he said, just happened.

“I didn’t actually talk to him at all, because I know what type of competitor he is and what type of competitor I am,” Frazier said. “If something like that happened to me, I’d be bitter. For me, I just wanted to give him time and he hit me up and we started talking.”

And the two regular-season games USC and Georgia play this year? Each had the same message: “We’ll be ready.”

It’s no coincidence the last time USC beat Georgia (Feb. 17, 2015), Frazier didn’t play. In the four games since, USC knew what was coming and still couldn’t stop it.

2015 SEC tournament

Frazier hit a 25-foot basket over three leaping USC defenders, after Georgia called two timeouts on the same possession because of the Gamecocks’ defense.

Feb. 2, 2016

USC cut a second-half deficit to four points. Frazier immediately hit two 3-pointers.

March 3, 2016

Frazier had 13 points in the final three minutes on the Gamecocks’ Senior Night.

Then the 2016 SEC Tournament. The 2017 SEC Tournament is again in Nashville, and perhaps the teams will meet again. Frazier said he’d like to have that chance, but didn’t have a concrete answer on why he seems to be “that guy” against USC.

“They bring the best out of me, every time we play,” he shrugged. “I know a Frank Martin-coached team is going to play hard and give everything they have, so my teammates put me in a position to make a play and I just want to make a play.”

Thornwell credited Georgia’s system – letting Frazier freelance – and the guard’s diminutive stature as to why he’s so good. It’s not easy chasing him all over the court and if Frazier gets one eyelash of room, he’s going to make a play.

That’s what happened last year.

“That play, I thought about it a lot. We didn’t talk after the game, but we’ve talked since then,” Thornwell said. “I’ve just told him I’ll be ready for him the next time and he said the same thing.”

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