Georgia will have to win the SEC Tournament to have any chance at its first postseason appearance under their third-year coach. Saturday’s game stands as crystal-clear proof that the Bulldogs are incapable of doing that. They can neither play the level of defense that a run like that would require, nor stand up to tough, physical defense.
The Bulldogs’ offense melted like warm butter in a hot skillet against the Gamecocks’ aggressive, match-up zone. They settled for jump shots, which they mostly missed, and went to the free-throw line only three times in the first half. After shooting 31 percent in an 83-59 loss to South Carolina in Columbia on Jan. 27, Georgia shot 36 percent this time and added 19 turnovers.
Meanwhile, the Gamecocks made 54 percent of their shots. Jermaine Cousinard, who scored a season-high 18 points last time against Georgia, scored 23 this time.
“They out-toughed us tonight,” said senior P.J. Horne, who led the Bulldogs with 17 points and made four 3-pointers. “They kind of got us cornered, and we need to know how to fight through adversity.”
Lost in the humiliation was sophomore Sahvir Wheeler setting Georgia’s record for assists in a season. The 5-foot-10 point guard had five assists to give him 170 on the season, surpassing Pertha Robinson’s 169 in 1995.
But it also was one of Wheeler’s worst games of the season. He had seven turnovers, went 2-for-13 from the field and finished with seven points. Interestingly, Wheeler played every minute of the game, even though South Carolina obviously had an effective game plan against him.
Wheeler wasn’t alone in stinking it up. K.D. Johnson was 2-for-9 from the field, and Toumani Camara was 4-for-11.
Justin Kier, one of three graduate transfers honored in Senior Day pregame ceremonies, was 3-for-4 from beyond the arc and finished with 16 points. The rest of the team was 0-for-10 from beyond the arc.
“This one (was bad), but we can’t stick in the past,” Kier said. “So we’ll soak on this one and get back to work.”
After trailing 41-29 at the half, Georgia fought back to get within five points on Kier’s 3-pointer at the 12:10 mark. That basket was set up on a feed from Wheeler, resulting in his record-setting assist.
But the Bulldogs went into a horrific drought after that. They went the next 5:58 without a field goal. By the time Camara finally scored on a put-back of the second of back-to-back Johnson misses, Georgia trailed by 19 points.
South Carolina’s lead would swell to 25 points. The Gamecocks scored 50 in the second half.
“A lot of times when you don’t want to go through the fight, you settle for jump shots, and that’s somewhat what we did tonight,” Crean said. “Our spirit got zapped early on, and our immaturity came out, to be honest with you. We have to get beyond that, and I did a poor job because we weren’t beyond getting frustrated over missed calls and physical play.”