ATHENS — Players react differently to the emotional tax that comes with being a senior playing on Senior Day. Some play great while others find it hard to focus or simply press too much.
Georgia’s Gerald Robinson did a little of all it. But the senior guard from Nashville was mostly magnificent, pouring in a game-high 23 points to lead the Bulldogs to a 67-55 victory over South Carolina at Stegeman Coliseum.
“Some seniors are terrible [on Senior Day],” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. “They’re just so emotional because it’s such a privilege to play here. But some of them are terrific. I thought Gerald was both today. I thought he started the game in somewhat of a funk. I called a timeout and I chewed on him a little bit. ... Gerald really responded, and he did play like a senior after that.”
Robinson, who was honored with Dustin Ware, Connor Nolte and Matt Bucklin shortly before tipoff, opened the contest with an air ball from 3-point range. His teammates followed his lead as the Bulldogs fell behind 10-0.
Robinson eventually gained his composure, not to mention his stroke. He scored 11 points on four consecutive possessions — including three 3-point shots — to hand Georgia its first lead, 22-21, at the 3:49 mark.
Georgia forged a 30-23 halftime lead and was never seriously threatened again.
“Senior Day is a very emotional day for everybody,” Robinson said. “Once we settled down and calmed down, we knew we had to go get the win. That was a good way to go out in my last home game.”
Robinson was 4-for-6 from 3-point range — a season best — and was Georgia’s only scorer in double figures. Ware finished with six points and six assists. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had eight points and seven rebounds, and Nemanja Djurisic added 10 rebounds.
With the victory, Georgia (14-16, 5-11 SEC) finishes the regular season tied with Auburn for 10th in the league. Because they lost to the Tigers this season, the Bulldogs lose the tiebreaker and get the No. 11 seed for the SEC tournament. They will play the No. 6 seed at 10 p.m. Thursday in New Orleans.
South Carolina was led by Malik Cooke — who played for Fox at Nevada — with 17 points. The Gamecocks (10-20, 2-14) already were assured of finishing in last place.
Georgia started its four seniors — including the rarely utilized Bucklin and Nolte — and got off to a horrific start. The Bulldogs missed their first seven shots — including five 3-pointers — and two free throws to fall behind 10-0. Robinson finally broke the drought with a reverse layup at the 12:17 mark.
“We started a lineup today that had never been on the floor at the same time in those roles, and it showed to start they game,” Fox said. “We got off to a poor start. I thought we were a little emotionally and mentally fatigued from Thursday night and the quick turnaround.”
Georgia started taking the ball inside and closed the deficit to four, at 12-8, on a string of layups. That opened the perimeter, and the Bulldogs made five 3-pointers in a row to take a 22-21 lead with 3:49 left in the half.
“At that point we got mad and just started playing,” Ware said of falling behind by 10. “We just looked at each other and said time to flush all that out and start playing. We were able to do that.”
Georgia turned it up on defense in the second half. The Bulldogs held South Carolina without a field goal for more than 7 1/2 minutes before Cooke finally rattled in a 3-pointer at the 7:26 mark. By then the Gamecocks had trailed by 14.
South Carolina got to within 53-47 on another Cooke 3-pointer with 4:13 to play. But the Bulldogs, who attempted a season-high 34 free throws, were able to close out the game from the free-throw line.