Georgia knocks off South Carolina

Georgia center Jeremy Price was asked to do something he hadn’t done all season: go the distance and be the inside presence for his team.

He responded in a big way, leading the Dogs to something they haven’t done much of: win a game late. On the strength of a late 13-0 run, Georgia (11-12, 3-7 SEC) knocked off South Carolina 66-61.

Georgia trailed by seven with four minutes to play, and didn’t catch up until Price made two free throws with 1:09 to play, giving Georgia a 60-59 lead. Price, Travis Leslie and Trey Thompkins combined to go 9-of-9 from the free-throw line in the last two minutes to seal the win.

With starting center Albert Jackson benched on the heels of a misdemeanor arrest Friday morning, Price got the start and scored 16 points, with seven rebounds. He entered Saturday scoring 6.5 points per game and playing an average of less than 18 minutes. But Friday, coach Mark Fox told Price to be ready to carry a load.

“I needed to pick up the slack on both ends of the court,” Price said. “Coach told me to be prepared to play a lot of minutes, to get some rest. Thirty-three minutes is a lot of minutes.

Fox wouldn’t discuss Jackson’s situation Saturday, but praised the play of Price.

“He’s a great kid, a talented player who finished a lot of plays tonight,” Fox said. “He didn’t play a perfect game, but he was a big part of why we won. His play was critical.”

Challenged by Fox to step up on defense and slow the SEC’s most dominant scorer, the Dogs clamped down on Devan Downey, holding him to 18 points on 6-for-22 shooting. He entered the game scoring almost 30 per game in league play.

But Saturday, Downey shot three air balls and missed three jumpers in the last 30 seconds of the game. He stroked a few long 3-pointers, but Georgia’s zone defense shut him down for most of the night.

“We didn’t just beat an all-star tonight, and Devan Downey is just that, he’s amazing, but we also beat a well-coached team. We zoned well the first 20 minutes, then started off well in the second half, but we got lazy or tired, and they seemed to solve it. Then we gave them a different zone look at the end, and they missed a few shots.”

Georgia struggled on offense for much of the game. Dustin Ware wasn’t getting many shots, and Ricky McPhee was missing his. And even though Thompkins finished with a game-high 21 points, almost all were the result of him fighting underneath.

With confidence apparently drained, Georgia passed up several open outside shots and tried to keep banging it inside. But in doing that, Georgia was too loose with the ball, turning it over 10 times.

Toward the end, that all changed. Ware, McPhee and Thompkins made key 3-pointers, and Georgia didn’t turn the ball over in the last several minutes.

But it was the calm and cool at the free-throw line that players were talking about after the game.

“We know if it comes down to that at the end, we’re going to win,” Thompkins said. “We put a great emphasis on that in practice, shooting millions and millions of free throws after we’ve practiced and are tired. We can’t leave the gym until we’ve knocked them down. It pays off.”