Chris Silva and Hassani Gravett traded grins and a couple hand-slaps. One half from their final home game ending at South Carolina, USC’s seniors could afford to take a moment for themselves.
The Gamecocks will be the No. 4 seed in next week’s SEC Tournament. They’ll have an all-important double bye in Nashville thanks to their most veteran players guiding a 66-46 rout of Georgia on Saturday afternoon.
Silva had 24 points and 10 rebounds, Gravett had 12 points and Tre Campbell added 11 as the Gamecocks built a 23-point halftime lead en route to their 11th SEC win.
“If I ever get to write a book,” said Carolina coach Frank Martin, “and I write about seniors, I want to speak about their last home game being like that.”
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Georgia (11-20, 2-16) tried to spoil an ideal Senior Day with a second half rally, but the Bulldogs never got to within single digits over the final 20 minutes.
Not long after a pregame ceremony, Silva, Gravett and Campbell looked like a trio wanting to go out with a bang. They scored 38 of USC’s 44 first half points. Two Silva free throws at the 13:42 mark began a 31-8 half-closing run that was capped by two more Silva FTs. In between, there was an aggressive “And-1” drive from Campbell, a couple 3s from Gravett and a top-of-the key swish from Silva.
“I think it just hyped all of us,” Gravett said of the pre-game festivities, “and we came out shooting.”
South Carolina shot 62.5 percent from 3 in the first half. The team of seven scholarship players — as A.J. Lawson missed his his third straight game because of a sprained ankle — was the more energetic bunch against a Georgia team that entered having already clinched the SEC Tournament’s 13-seed.
The Bulldogs, though, showed fight in the second half. South Carolina started the period by missing 17 of its first 19 shots — allowing UGA to cut the lead to 10 on three occasions — before back-to-back buckets from Keyshawn Bryant (dunk) and Maik Kotsar (short jumper) gave Carolina some breathing room with four minutes left.
Silva, Gravett and Campbell were held to eight second half points.
“When I went into halftime,” Martin said, “I was actually concerned because they had played so well, and with that kind of a lead ... all I could think of, with this big lead, these kids are gonna start thinking like, ‘This is our last time on the court.’ And that’s a pressure that you as a coach don’t want those kids to have. I think they felt that. I think they got consumed with like, ‘Wow,’ instead of next play.
“I haven’t asked them that, but I think that’s what happened.”
The Gamecocks (16-15 overall) finished with four second half field goals, but held Georgia without a bucket over the final 10:29.
“When you study what Gravett and Silva have done all year — and really their whole career — but what they’ve done all year in being able to find ways to win at the end of games,” said UGA coach Tom Crean, “being able to make plays, not only for themselves, but for each other, it’s impressive. It really is.”
Silva and Gravett joked around at halftime. That pair was the last to leave the floor after the game ended. The victory lap included stops for autographs and poses for selfies.
“I appreciate the fans that came out,” Silva said, “I appreciate my teammates that gave me so much love and my family and the coaches. That just made this day memorable.”
Next: South Carolina is the No. 4 seed in the SEC Tournament and will play a quarterfinal game Friday at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. USC’s opponent will either be 5-seed Auburn, 12-seed Missouri or 13-seed Georgia.
SOUTH CAROLINA 66, GEORGIA 46
Claxton 3-7 6-12 13, Ogbeide 2-2 7-8 11, Wilridge 1-4 2-6 4, Harris 2-10 2-2 7, Jackson 0-8 2-2 2, Toppin 0-0 0-0 0, Ngumezi 0-1 1-2 1, Fagan 1-1 0-0 2, Harrison 0-1 0-0 0, Crump 2-8 0-0 6. Totals 11-42 20-32 46.
SOUTH CAROLINA (16-15)
Silva 6-16 11-16 24, Bryant 5-8 4-5 14, Haase 0-2 0-0 0, Campbell 3-10 3-3 11, Gravett 4-11 2-2 12, Kotsar 1-8 0-2 2, Nelson 0-0 0-0 0, Frink 0-1 3-4 3, Borup 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 19-56 23-32 66.
Halftime: South Carolina 44-21. 3-Point Goals: Georgia 4-22 (Crump 2-8, Claxton 1-1, Harris 1-5, Jackson 0-8), South Carolina 5-15 (Campbell 2-6, Gravett 2-6, Silva 1-2, Haase 0-1). Fouled Out: Haase. Rebounds: Georgia 33 (Claxton, Ogbeide 10), South Carolina 37 (Silva 10). Assists: Georgia 5 (Jackson 4), South Carolina 8 (Silva, Campbell 2). Total Fouls: Georgia 21, South Carolina 21. Technicals: South Carolina coach Frank Martin.