Gamecocks Pick Up 21st Win With Victory Over UGA

The South Carolina Gamecocks picked up their 21st win of the season Saturday night at the Colonial Center with a convincing 63-47 victory over the hot Georgia Bulldogs in front of a sellout crowd. The game sends them into the Kentucky game with a new air of confidence, but they lost a key element of their game at the same time ...

With an invitation to the Big Dance possibly hanging in the balance, South Carolina picked a very good time to produce one of its best 20 minutes of the season.

USC held Georgia to four field goals and 16 points on 20 percent shooting in the second half and rolled to a 63-47 victory over the Dawgs in a "must win" game for the Gamecocks before a sold-out gathering of 17,814 at the Colonial Center Saturday night.

USC improved to 21-7 overall, 8-6 in the SEC, and gave its NCAA Tournament chances a boost with the victory, although it will likely take at least one more victory to cement a bid.

The Gamecocks, who assured themselves of no worse than a .500 conference record, remained tied with Florida (73-68 victory at Arkansas) for second place in the Eastern Division.

Vanderbilt lost at home to Mississippi State (72-69) Saturday night and fell to 7-7 in league play.

Gonner (7-for-9 FG, 7-for-8 FT) scored 20 of his game-high 22 points in the second half to spark the Gamecocks to the hard-fought victory. The junior college transfer, who outscored Georgia, 20-16, by himself in the second half, had three breakaway dunks early in the second half.

Renaldo Balkman scored 10 points and grabbed a team-high seven rebounds in one of his better performances of the season.

Even John Chappell came up aces. The much maligned junior scored four points, including a critical offensive rebound basket, and grabbed three rebounds in nine minutes of action after Rolando Howell (10 points and four rebounds) suffered a potentially serious left wrist injury. Chappell left to a standing ovation.

USC shot 53.5% from the field (23-for-43) to overcome some shaky free throw shooting (14-for-24)..

While the Dawgs came to Columbia full of confidence with a three-game winning streak, they were also 1-7 on the road. They showed why with a second half collapse that likely ended any talk of a NCAA berth.

The key period of the game started four minutes into the second half. With the score tied at 38-38, USC went on a 22-6 run over the next 9-1/2 minutes to take a commanding 60-44 lead with 6:24 left.

USC held UGA without a field goal over the final 10:28 of the game. The Gamecocks scored 12 straight points after a Georgia free throw had cut USC's lead to 48-44 with 9:46 left.

The second half began inauspiciously for the Gamecocks, and Balkman in particular, as he missed a thunder dunk and traveled after grabbing an offensive rebound.

USC took its first lead at 32-31 when Boynton fed Balkman for a layup in transition.

Gonner's breakaway dunk made it 34-31 after a both teams tussled for the ball underneath UGA's basket. Howell was helped off the court with a wrist injury.

UGA took its last lead of the game at 35-34 with a pair of easy baskets. Baskets by Balkman (layup) and Gonner (second breakaway dunk after a steal on an inbounds pass) gave the Gamecocks a 38-35 edge with 16:19 left.

After a 3-pointer by Georgia, Carlos Powell drove baseline for a layup, only his second basket of the contest. The field goal gave USC the lead for good at 40-38 lead heading into the first media timeout of the second half with 15:25 left.

Powell's basket jumpstarted an 8-0 run for the Gamecocks. Gonner's third breakaway dunk of the half off a UGA turnover gave USC a 42-38 lead.

Moments later, Balkman snatched a loose ball in the lane and scored while being fouled, making it 44-38 with 13:45 left. He failed to convert the 3-point opportunity, though.

USC expanded the lead to eight (46-38) when Tre Kelley drove the lane strong and fed Chappell for a layup.

The Dawgs hung tough with a pair of free throws and a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 46-43 before Balkman stopped the 5-0 run with a layup.

Gonner continued his torrid scoring pace with a driving layup to give USC a 50-44 lead with 9:32 left. The basket started a 12-0 run for USC that put the game out of reach.

UGA hurt themselves with offensive fouls on consecutive possessions. Gonner hit two free throws for a 52-44 lead.

UGA officially became unraveled when Jonas Hayes was called for a technical foul with 7:54 left after he angrily slammed the ball down after a call on the baseline went against the Dawgs. Gonner hit both technical free throws for a 54-44 lead, USC's initial double-digit advantage.

USC's 22-6 surge continued when Chappell outfought a couple of UGA players for an offensive rebound and converted.

Gonner jumper and two free throws (giving him 19 points in the second half) gave USC a 60-44 lead with 6:24 left.

Boynton wrapped up the victory with a pair of free throws with 1:20 left to give USC a 62-47 lead.

USC never led in ragged and sometimes frustrating first half that had a total of 24 fouls and several missed opportunities for the Gamecocks (5-for-11 from the line as two starters for UGA picked up three fouls).

UGA jumped out to a 5-0 lead before USC responded with a layup from Howell. The lead grew to 8-2 when USC, struggling with UGA's defensive pressure, called a timeout with possession in the front court.

USC had one field goal, and trailed, 8-2, when the first media timeout was called with 15:47 left.

Boynton hit a 3-pointer on USC's first possession after the timeout to give the crowd life. But the Dawgs responded with a 3-pointer of their own to make it 11-5 with 15:19 left.

A driving layup by Brown and two free throws by Kelley cut the lead to 13-9.

USC got a break when one of UGA's better players, Chris Daniels, picked up his third foul less than eight minutes into the contest.

USC cut the lead to one (13-12) when Gonner drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key. Four points by Rolando Howell (offensive rebound and two free throws) couldn't totally negate a layup and 3-pointer by UGA, as the Dawgs took an 18-16 lead heading into the second media timeout with 10:56 left.

Four consecutive points by the Dawgs expanded its lead to 22-16 with 9:39 left before a free throw by Kinsey ended UGA's brief run.

Carlos Powell was whistled for his third personal foul with 7:41 left and had to take a seat on the bench.

After UGA took its biggest lead of the half (24-17), USC finally answered the wakeup call. The Gamecocks ran off seven straight points (layup by Brown as the shot clock expired, dunk by Howell off a steal, and 3-pointer by Boynton) to tie the game at 24-24 and force UGA to ask for a timeout with 5:09 left.

The momentum swung back to UGA, though, as the Dawgs ran off four points for a 28-24 lead. Howell got USC within two with a baby hook from the baseline.

USC missed an opportunity to tie the game when Kelley missed two free throws. UGA hit two free throws to take a 30-26 lead with 1:40 left.

Although UGA was forced to play walkons due to foul trouble, USC failed to take full advantage.

Baskets by Howell (dunk) and Gonner (jumper from the corner) tied the game for the second time at 30-30 with 47 seconds left before intermission.

UGA closed out the first half scoring with a free throw, as the Dawgs took a 31-30 halftime lead.

NOTES: USC's starters were Boynton, Gonner, Howell, Powell, Balkman. . .Current SEC East Standings: Kentucky 10-3, USC 8-6, Florida 8-6, Vanderbilt 7-7, Georgia 6-8, Tennessee 6-8. . .The all-time USC/UGA series is now tied at 41-41. . .USC is 14-2 this season at the Colonial Center. . .USC outrebounded UGA, 31-27. . .USC is now 6-3 this season when it trails at the half. . .USC is 12-3 in games decided by 10+ points. . .USC had only 10 turnovers, a remarkable feat considering the physical play. . .UGA was 4-for-20 from the field in the second half. . .Gonner has led USC in scoring seven times this season. . .The 22 points represented the fourth time Gonner has scored 20+ points this season. . .The home game against Kentucky on Wed. 3/3 is already a sell-out. . .UGA is coached by Dennis Felton, who is in his first year in Athens. . .UGA fell to 14-11 overall. The Dawgs are 12-3 at home but only 1-8 on the road.

QUOTES:

USC HEAD COACH DAVE ODOM: "It was a great win for the Gamecocks. Georgia was not going to let that be a pretty game. It didn't surprise us. The secret to their resurgence had been their defense. Their defense has improved by leaps and bounds. They're very physical and they take the other team on. As much as we prepared for them, it's entirely different out there with body contact. I think our players were shocked early on by the physical play."

"(Michael) Boynton held us together. As physical as the game was, we turned it over only 10 times. Our defense was equal to the task, though. We had several player who played instrumental parts. Josh Gonner got us going early in the second half. He gave us confidence. He made some jump shots. Balkman was good early, he was solid in the middle, and good late. This was his type of game. He stayed with the game plan. Michael Boynton did a terrific job in a role he plays so well. Howell held his own and we certainly could not have been there without his play."

"And how about John Chappell. Who could not be happy for him. No one has worked harder. He stood up in a time when we needed him most."

"Rolando's situation is not a good. It's the left wrist. It doesn't look good. They went right to the hospital."

UGA: 31-16=47
USC: 30-33=63

USC Top Scorer: Josh Gonner, 22 points.
UGA Top Scorer: Rashad Wright, 13 points.
USC Top Rebounder: Renaldo Balkman, 7.
UGA Top Rebounder: Chris Daniels, 7.
Halftime: UGA 31-30.

Next Game: Wed. 3/3 v. Kentucky

SEC SCORES – Saturday, February 28th
Alabama 84, Ole Miss 69
Florida 73, Arkansas 68
Tennessee 75, Auburn 69
Mississippi State 72, Vanderbilt 69

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