Mark Fox’s Georgia Bulldogs entered Wednesday evening’s SEC road outing against the South Carolina Gamecocks with all their hopes of securing a postseason invitation of any sort riding on the weeknight outcome in Columbia’s Colonial Life Arena. The Red and Black came away smarting from a 57-56 defeat that may have been the most embarrassing of the season, and perhaps even of Coach Fox’s tenure.
The teams were tied at two after one minute, at four after three minutes, and at nine after nine minutes. A Gerald Robinson layup, a Donte` Williams dunk, and a Dustin Ware trey made it 16-9 in favor of the Hoop Dogs with nine minutes remaining until halftime, but the Garnet and Black went on a 7-0 run of their own to snarl the score anew with just under seven minutes showing on the game clock. It was 18-all with five minutes to play, but the Gamecocks surged ahead, taking a 28-26 lead into the locker room despite Ware’s three-point jumper to close out the first half.
The halftime stats were as even as the score. Each contestant drained nine shots from the field in the first 20 minutes, and South Carolina hit three from beyond the arc and seven from the charity stripe, as compared to Georgia’s two and six, respectively. The Bulldogs led by one in first-half rebounds (19-18), and the Gamecocks committed one more turnover prior to intermission (6-5).
After intermission, Williams blocked a Damontre Harris jumper, tied the game on a dunk, pulled down a rebound, and made the go-ahead layup in the opening 132 seconds. The back-and-forth battle to determine which would be the one-eyed man anointed king in the land of the blind continued, as Harris knotted the contest at 30 with 16 minutes remaining in the game, but, after a 7-2 South Carolina run, Georgia responded.
Williams made one of two from the free throw line. Robinson made a layup, assisted by Ware. Ware made a layup, assisted by Robinson. All of a sudden, the Fox Hounds were up, 38-37, with twelve minutes to go. A pair of Sherrard Brantley three-point jumpers stretched the Athenians’ lead to 44-39 with ten to play, then Kentavious Caldwell-Pope sunk a pair of foul shots to make it 46-39 with nine left.
By the eight-minute mark, though, the Bulldogs’ cushion was down to a mere two points. There followed a Caldwell-Pope turnover, a Williams turnover, a Marcus Thornton foul, and a Caldwell-Pope miss before Robinson dropped in the layup that made it 48-44, but Caldwell-Pope promptly fouled Malik Cooke, who found the bottom of the net on back-to-back free throws to make it a one-possession game once more with six minutes showing on the scoreboard. Cooke tied the game at 48 with five to play, then Bruce Ellington made the layup that staked the Gamecocks to a two-point lead with four minutes left.
Nemanja Djurisic snarled the contest at 50. Damien Leonard banged one in from way downtown to put South Carolina up by three. Caldwell-Pope answered with the three-pointer that gave each team 53 points with 163 seconds left in regulation. Two free throws by Anthony Gill gave the home team a two-point lead as the clock crept under two minutes, but a Robinson trey---no way!---put the Bulldogs out in front by one with 46 seconds remaining.
Cooke drained the jumper that made it 57-56 for the home team with 24 seconds showing, and, when Robinson missed the ensuing layup, it was necessary for Ware to foul Ellington. The Gamecock free throw shooter obligingly missed, but, unfortunately, so did Caldwell-Pope when attempting a three-point basket following a defensive rebound, leaving Georgia one game under .500 and 3-8 in SEC play after losing to a team that now sits at 2-9 in league outings.
The Bulldogs entered this season sporting the twelfth-best men’s basketball tradition in the Southeastern Conference; they will enter next season sporting the 14th-best men’s basketball tradition in the Southeastern Conference. In between those two events, they will have proven themselves to be the twelfth-best men’s basketball team in the Southeastern Conference. This was the loss that rendered all excuses moot and all hopes false.