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February 16, 2012

USC-Georgia Hoops Extra: USC sinks its free throws



Excellent free-throw shooting was a major reason why South Carolina was able to rally for a 57-56 victory over Georgia on Wednesday.

USC connected on 14-of-15 attempts from the free-throw line (93.3 percent) in its second conference win of the season, outdueling Georgia (10-of-14) from the charity stripe.

Arguably, it was USC's best performance from the line since it made 20-of-22 charity tosses in a 79-73 victory over Ole Miss on Feb. 22, 2011.

"I think it was huge and I think the timing of them was big," USC coach Darrin Horn said.

Anthony Gill, now coming off the bench, was 5-for-5 from the line, while Malik Cooke was 4-for-4. Gill made two free throws with 2:35 left to snap a 53-53 tie. Those were the last points for USC until Cooke's jumper with 20 seconds remaining.

Gill had struggled from the line in the last three games, making just 5-of-16 shots. His five made free throws represented a season -high for the freshman from Charlotte.

"Anthony's free throws were big and he's a really good free-throw shooter," Horn said. "He had not shot well over his last 10 or 15 (free throws), percentage-wise, so for him to step up and do what he did at the foul line tonight ... our only miss was the one Bruce (Ellington) had late that I fully expected to go in. But it just didn't go in."

It was the fourth straight game in which USC has attempted 15 or more free throws, a stark contrast to the first seven SEC games, when the Gamecocks attempted an average of 10.4 free throws.

"Getting there 15 times was a positive and obviously shooting 93 percent was a huge help," Horn said.

CHANGING IT UP: In the two games before Georgia, the final three or four minutes of the first half have proven to be troublesome for USC. But Wednesday, the Gamecocks outscored Georgia 8-5 in the final 2:50 of the opening half as Brenton Williams hit consecutive 3-pointers within a span of 23 seconds and Bruce Ellington added two free throws with 20 seconds left to give USC a 28-23 lead.

Only a long 3-pointer by Georgia's Dustin Ware at the buzzer prevented USC from taking its largest lead of the opening half into intermission.

Besides the surge at the end of the first half, another statistic made this game a little bit different from its previous nine SEC losses - USC never fell behind by 10 or more points. Georgia's largest lead was seven with 9:10 remaining (46-39).

"We've just had stretches that eliminated our opportunity to win. I think tonight, we didn't have those stretches," Horn said. "There were a couple of times we had a few careless turnovers and they got some run-outs in both halves where it looked like it could happen, but our guys just didn't let it happen. It's hard when you get down by double digits."

GREAT NIGHT FOR HARRIS Sophomore forward Damontre Harris came close to a double-double with nine points and eight rebounds. He made 4-of-5 shots and led USC with five blocks, one less than his season-high. He blocked Georgia's Gerald Robinson Jr. under the basket with around 12 seconds to play.

Harris entered Wednesday's game averaging 6.9 points and a team-leading 5.4 rebounds per game. He also had 54 blocks and 24 steals.

"Damontre has been as consistent as anybody we have," Horn said. "He's having a borderline All-SEC year in terms of his consistency. It's not double-doubles like you see with some guys around the league. But he's around that nine and eight an awful lot. He makes key plays and has key rebounds. He's been doing it on both ends of the floor. He just keeps getting better and better."

Harris also tipped away the last inbound pass to preserve USC's 57-56 lead.

"He had a huge block late in the game," Horn said. "One of the things he does is he has a knack for not only blocking a shot but keeping it inbounds. It seems like we end up with a lot of those."

GEORGIA PERSPECTIVE: Georgia (12-13, 3-8 SEC) came into Wednesday's game on a hot streak with consecutive wins over Arkansas (81-59) and Mississippi State (70-68 in overtime) within the last seven days. However, the Bulldogs shot just 35.1 percent (20-for-57) from the field and saw a seven-point lead with nine minutes remaining evaporate. The Bulldoges missed a layup and a 3-pointer in the closing seconds.

"It's tough to lose by a point on the road, but you have to give South Carolina credit," Georgia coach Mark Fox said. "I thought they played a little hungrier than we did tonight. They were pretty resilient. We had a couple of leads on them and they came back. When we had the lead, we needed one more stop at the end, but Malik (Cooke) made a big basket. I hated to see the ball in his hands. He made a great play. I thought our defense was in pretty good position."

Cooke played for Fox at Nevada from 2007-09, so the fact that he hit the game-winning shot didn't surprise his former coach.

"He's what we thought he would be when we recruited him (at Nevada)", Fox said. "He's become a very complete small forward. He shoots the ball, he can defend and he has always been a great rebounder. He's just a winner. They have an extremely young team like we do and those young guys have a great example, I'm sure, in Malik, because he's a winner off the court, too."

NOTES

* After USC's 5-0 run sliced a seven-point UGA lead to two (46-44), the biggest lead for either team over the final 8:25 was four points. The score was tied three times.

* Gill had nine points and six rebounds in 25 minutes.

* Wednesday's game marked the fifth time this season that Ellington has collected four or more assists. He is averaging four assists over the last six games.

* The win over Georgia marked the first of four home games for USC in a five-game stretch. The Gamecocks host LSU at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday.

* The 57-56 win snapped USC's three-game losing streak to Georgia and represented its ninth home win of the season. USC is 9-6 at home in Horn's fourth season as coach.

* USC is 56-16 under Horn when it holds the opponent under 45 percent shooting.

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D. McCallum


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