South Carolina opened SEC play with a 67-61 win at Georgia Wednesday night. PJ Dozier led all scorers with 24 points.
The Gamecocks welcomed back Sindarius Thornwell, who had missed the last six games due to suspension. Thornwell scored 19 points and grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds in his return, and he also anchored a defense that held the Bulldogs to 36 percent shooting for the game and under 29 percent in the second half.
But, as he did while Thornwell was sidelined, Dozier carried the load offensively. He buried a three-pointer at the end of the first half to give South Carolina a 36-34 lead at the break, and South Carolina never gave the lead back.
The Gamecocks led by as much as nine in the second half, but the Bulldogs hung around. A 6-0 run midway through the half pulled UGA back within two, but Chris Silva made a jumper and Dozier scored four straight to put the Gamecocks back up eight.
South Carolina led 59-54 at the under four-minute media timeout, but missed free throws nearly handed the game to Georgia. After Duane Notice, who shot 1-7 from the floor, continuing his season-long struggles, got consecutive offensive rebounds off his own misses, Maik Kotsar was fouled. Kotsar missed the front end of the one-and-one, and Derek Ogbeide cut into the lead with a layup on the other end.
Silva drew a foul, and made the first free throw, but missed the second. Fortunately, Hassani Gravett tipped out the offensive rebound, and Thornwell drove the baseline, spun, and made a layup while drawing the foul. Once again, he missed the free throw.
JJ Frazier, who has been a Gamecock-killer throughout his career, answered with a pair of free throws. After Dozier missed a tough floater, Frazier drew a double team and kicked to Yante Maten for three, cutting the Gamecock lead to one at 62-61. Then, as he had done all season, Thornwell made the big plays when the Gamecocks needed it. He drove to the basket and missed, but got the rebound and scored on the putback. He then forced a Bulldog turnover on defense to give the Gamecocks a chance to win the game at the line.
Georgia fouled Gravett, who made one of two free throws. Then Frazier missed a tough three-point attempt and Dozier grabbed the rebound. He made both free throws, and then stole the ball on the ensuing possession to seal the win.
In addition to his 24 points, Dozier finished with seven rebounds and five assists. He successfully blended the offensive brilliance he showed in Thornwell's absence with Thornwell's game as the two were able to complement each other.
Notes: South Carolina was just 10-17 from the free throw line. Georgia was 23-30. ... Georgia outrebounded South Carolina 40-34. ... Silva finished with 13 points but only three rebounds. ... Kotsar struggled with foul trouble and went scoreless with one rebound in 16 minutes. ... Maten finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Frazier had just six points on 3-10 shooting, including 1-6 from three. ... South Carolina scored 18 points off 16 turnovers, while committing only eight turnovers.