Gamecocks Have No Answer For Bulldogs
Saturday's game was the second time the Gamecocks and Bulldogs had faced off on the hardwood this season. In Athens, for the first meeting, Georgia pummeled USC 80-56. The loss served as a stark lesson for Carolina entering SEC play. It also marked the beginning of a slump that saw the Gamecocks establish some records for futility. However, Carolina recovered from the swoon to play much better over the next month. After a disappointing showing in their last game against Kentucky, the Gamecocks entered the game hoping to avoid another swoon.
In the game against Kentucky, the Gamecocks dug themselves a huge hole in the first half before making a valiant second half comeback. Early on, it appeared the Gamecocks were trying to repeat the formula. Carolina came out flat, while the Bulldogs were able to execute their game plan. Georgia scored the first seven points of the game, and led 9-1 when Coach Dave Odom called a 30 second timeout to talk to his troops. During the run, the Gamecocks could not even execute a free throw correctly. On the line to shoot two free throws, Tre Kelley, who led the Gamecocks with 21 points, had his first attempt waved off when Evaldas Baniulis walked away from the paint during Kelley's shot and was called for a lane violation. "Again, a team came out on us early and made some early shots," Odom said.
Following the timeout, the Gamecocks began to play with more focus, and they slowly closed the gap. With just under 12 minutes to play in the half, Chad Gray made a layup to pull Carolina within three, at 13-10. From that point, the Gamecocks and Bulldogs played each other evenly until five minutes remained in the half. "Toward the last five minutes of the first half they go on a bit of a tear. I think we tired out at that point," Odom said.
Slowly, Georgia's inside game began to make a difference. With Takais Brown (13 points) pounding away in the paint, the Bulldogs' shooters were able to get open looks from three point land. Mike Mercer (12 points), Levi Stukes (13 points), and Billy Humphrey (team-high 14 points) all hit treys to key a 15-5 run that gave Georgia a 41-26 lead at halftime. "With Takais Brown, they have an excellent inside attack," Odom said. "We weren't able to be effective defensively inside and still be able to cover the outside like we needed to."
Kelley was on the bench for part of the run, and the Gamecocks' disorganized play reflected his absence and was a factor in Carolina's inability to keep pace with Georgia. Only four Gamecocks scored in the first half, and only Kelley (11 points) and Dwayne Day (9 points) had more than 4 points. However, Day's points came as he threw up every shot in sight, killing as many possessions as he saved.
The start of the second half was a near copy of the start of the first half. After starting the game with a 9-1 run, Georgia began the second half with a 9-2 run. All told, the Bulldogs went on a 24-7 run over the last five minutes of the first half and first four minutes of the second. Quickly down by 20 points, the only hope for the Gamecocks was to attempt another Kentucky-sized comeback. Such a comeback was not in the cards for Carolina, however, as they went on to lose 73-54.
"They carried that [run] over into the second half, and that was really the story of the game right there. Their depth got to us, we fatigued a little bit, they shot the ball extremely well from three," Odom explained.
Odom summed up the game by saying, "They played very well, and we played very poorly." Wallace echoed the sentiments, saying, "I feel like the team competed, but Georgia just overwhelmed us." Kelley was frustrated with another loss, saying, "I'm not a guy that gets used to losing." Referring to his younger teammates, Kelley added, "[I] hope that my team doesn't get used to losing."
- There was a scary moment in the second half when Bulldog Mike Mercer went down with a serious leg injury. He was fitted with an air cast and taken from the court on a stretcher. His knee came out of socket, and while doctors were able to slide it back in, Mercer suffered significant ligament damage and is done for the year.
- With the loss, Carolina is assured of finishing no better than 8-8 in the SEC. It marks the 8th straight non-winning season in SEC play. During that span, Carolina has only finished .500 one time, the NCAA Tournament season of 2003-2004.
- Tre' Kelley entered the game as the leading scorer in SEC play, averaging 19.7 points per game. Carolina has started a Player of the Year campaign for Kelley, distributing a leaflet touting Kelley for the honor.
- Chad Gray continues to show improvement. He played a career-high 17 minutes and notched a career-high 10 points. However, Gray limped off the court with 9 minutes to play. After the game, Gray was on crutches and wearing a boot on his right foot. He is officially listed as day-to-day with a right toe sprain, and will be evaluated Monday.
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