Chris Silva, towering over the other reporters, took his place outside the scrum and held an imaginary microphone toward his teammates. The 6-foot-9, 234-pound All-SEC forward played sports writer for a second while A.J. Lawson and Keyshawn Bryant answered questions about South Carolina’s 86-80 win over Georgia.
The freshmen laughed at the sight of their star senior.
“He brings leadership,” Lawson said. “If he’s not scoring or rebounding, he’s always talking and bringing that good energy. He has a high motor.”
Silva scored 19 points and grabbed six rebounds Saturday. That motor was still running 30 minutes after the game when he stopped outside the visiting locker room at Stegeman Coliseum to have a little fun with the Gamecock rookies.
USC (11-10 overall, 6-2 SEC) has been a different team since 2019 began. A sixth win in nine games keeps the Gamecocks among the top four of the SEC standings. It’s come during a time when Silva has reminded the league of his value.
Saturday was no different. South Carolina outscored Georgia (10-11, 1-7) by 12 points with Silva on the court.
“If we can somehow figure out a way to keep him on the floor,” said Carolina coach Frank Martin, “he’s gonna have real good games.”
The Bulldogs, down by as many as 13 in the second half, cut things to five thanks to a Turtle Jackson layup with 7:28 left. That was Silva’s cue to check back in. Martin gave a look and the big man — with three fouls — went sprinting to the scorer’s table.
It was no coincidence USC was back up 10 less than three minutes later.
UGA never led in the game. When two Jackson free throws made it 83-80 with 1:06 left, the Gamecocks responded with a 36-second possession. After a missed jumper from Hassani Gravett, it was Silva who kept alive an offensive rebound opportunity that Lawson eventually collected around mid-court. He was then fouled and made both free throws to help ice the victory.
“What I saw in September and October offensively,” Martin said of Silva, “you’re starting to see it in games now. But now he’s connected that with ball-screen defense, protecting the rim, his enthusiasm, his effort, blocking shots.
“All the things that he’s good at, he’s starting to connect it in games.”
Silva’s averaging 23.5 points and 9.8 rebounds over his last four games. Saturday’s performance came in a winning effort, unlike last week’s trip to Oklahoma State and Tuesday’s loss to No. 1 Tennessee.
USC’s supporting cast was better against the Bulldogs. Lawson added 19 points, Gravett chipped in with 13, Bryant had 11 and Felipe Haase made three 3-pointers in a 1:42 stretch of the second half that proved crucial.
The Gamecocks finished 11 of 16 from beyond the arc. That 68.8 percentage is their best since a 73.3 effort in an SEC Tournament win over Auburn on March 12, 2014.
“I thought offensively we played fairly well,” Martin said. “Obviously we made shots, but we made shots because I thought we played well.”
Georgia, which scored 21 points off 20 offensive rebounds, rallied from a 15-point first half deficit to make it competitive at the break. Most of that Bulldog surge came with Silva on the bench.
After missing 19 of its first 23 field goal attempts, Georgia made nine of its last 12 to end the period down just 45-40. Over that seven-minute stretch, Silva logged just 14 seconds of action.
Silva, already at 13 points and four boards, got a blow at the 9-minute mark with the Gamecocks up 10. When he returned over six minutes later — and with USC up 40-31 — he quickly picked up his second foul. He sat the remainder of the half.
“I talk on the court,” Silva said. “When I’m on the bench, I try to talk to the guys, but it seems like when I’m off the court, communication gets bad. So I do my best to talk to the guys.”
South Carolina has now won five straight games over Georgia for the first time since 1950s.
SOUTH CAROLINA (11-10)
Kotsar 3-8 0-2 6, Silva 7-10 5-8 19, Bryant 5-7 1-2 11, Campbell 3-7 0-0 9, Lawson 7-13 3-4 19, Haase 3-4 0-0 9, Frink 0-0 0-0 0, Gravett 5-7 0-0 13, Hinson 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 33-58 9-16 86.
Wilridge 0-1 0-0 0, Claxton 3-12 3-4 9, Hammonds 4-7 3-3 11, Crump 5-13 0-0 14, Jackson 3-6 3-4 10, Ngumezi 0-2 0-0 0, Ogbeide 5-11 6-6 16, Hightower 2-4 2-2 6, Harrison 0-0 1-2 1, Harris 3-6 4-4 11, Fagan 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 26-64 22-25 80.
Halftime: South Carolina 45-40. 3-Point Goals_South Carolina 11-16 (Gravett 3-4, Haase 3-4, Campbell 3-5, Lawson 2-2, Hinson 0-1), Georgia 6-20 (Crump 4-9, Harris 1-1, Jackson 1-3, Ngumezi 0-1, Hightower 0-1, Wilridge 0-1, Hammonds 0-1, Claxton 0-3). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds: South Carolina 28 (Lawson 7), Georgia 35 (Claxton 9). Assists: South Carolina 16 (Campbell 7), Georgia 9 (Jackson 3). Total Fouls: South Carolina 21, Georgia 14. Attendance: 9,820.
Who: South Carolina at Kentucky
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky
TV: SEC Network