ATHENS – J.J. Frazier was amazing again, helping Georgia perhaps save its season, and in the process do something it hadn’t done in more than two years: Beat a top 25 team.
In a game it controlled most of the way, Georgia downed No. 25 South Carolina, 69-56, on Tuesday night at Stegeman Coliseum. It came after a week when the Bulldogs failed to hold a halftime lead at another ranked team (Baylor), and suffered another close loss (at LSU) when it could have been a quality win.
This time, Georgia didn’t miss the chance.
“It helps us a lot, because we were in position many times, countless times, this year, where we were so close,” sophomore forward Yante Maten said. “This really helps our morale, and puts us back in the right place.”
Here are five observations from the arena:
1. VITALLY IMPORTANT WIN
This was a game that Georgia badly needed to win. And it played like it.
The fact it was the first win over a top 25 team since two seasons ago is a footnote. (The last time was at Missouri, in January 2014.) What’s important is Georgia, still hopeful of getting an NCAA tournament bid, finally has the type of quality win it hopes will bolster its resume’.
South Carolina (19-3, 6-3 in the SEC) entered ranked No. 28 in the RPI. Georgia’s best win entering the game was over Georgia Tech, which was ranked No. 71, and the Bulldogs (now 12-8, 5-4) entered only No. 75 in the RPI. This result should help immensely.
“We never felt we were out of the fight, out of the journey to the tourney, per se,” senior guard Kenny Gaines said. “But this was just a good resume’ win for us, and just something for us to build upon.”
And Frazier, the 5-foot-10 junior guard, once again had the biggest moments, including two big 3s with the game in the balance.
2. GAINES SETS IT UP, FRAZIER FINISHES
For the second straight game, Georgia had a halftime lead over a ranked team. But this time it was by 10 at home, much more secure than a three-point road lead. The Gamecocks only managed 23 points in the first 20 minutes, shooting 6-for-28 from the field.
And when Georgia extended the lead to 13 points early in the half, it looked like a runaway could happen. Then the Gamecocks made their run, cutting it to five via three quick possession, and then to within three with just under 11 minutes. Finally, it was a two-point game with six minutes left.
That was when Gaines came up big: First he tipped back an offensive rebound, and then turned a long defensive rebound into a fast-break lay-up. South Carolina called timeout with 5:07 left as the crowd came to its feet.
Frazier hit a corner 3 to make it 69-62 with just over three minutes left. And with 1:50 left, and the shot clock expiring, Frazier hit another 3 from basically the same spot to make it 62-53. The crowd came to its feet again, and South Carolina called timeout.
“I was closely defended, but at some point you have to bear down and make a play for your teammates,” said Frazier, who scored all of his 13 points in the second half. “I just wanted to make a shot, make a play to give us a cushion, some breathing room.”
3. FRAZIER LEAPS BACK IN THE GAME
Frazier, who had zero points in the first half, found quite a way to finally enter the scoring column.
On the first possession of the second half, Frazier jumped over the South Carolina bench to save a ball. He did, but then Frazier found himself behind the visiting bench, stuck, while his teammates played four-on-five.
“On our bench side there’s an opening where you can cut through the coaches, on the visiting side it was blocked off,” Frazier said. “So I didn’t know which way to go. I just took the long way around, and laughed to myself. Because I was like, ‘Oh no, here we go.’ I didn’t want to give my team a disadvantage for too long.”
The crowd cheered as Frazier arrived back on the other side of the court, about 12 seconds later. They cheered even louder when his teammates promptly got him the ball on the right wing, and Frazier drilled a 3.
Georgia head coach Mark Fox said later he considered calling a timeout before deciding to let it play out.
“That’ll be a legendary play, I’m sure,” Fox said, smiling. “Ten years from now he’ll have shot it from behind their bench.”
4. GETTING HELP
In SEC play, Georgia had been only averaging 12.6 points a game from players other the top four guys. That average didn’t go up Tuesday – it went slightly down – but the supporting cast had some vital moments.
Freshman forward E’Torrion Wilridge nailing a 3 early in the game was a good sign for Georgia. That gave Georgia a 13-11 lead, and the Bulldogs never trailed again.
Freshman center Derek Ogbeide came up huge on the glass early in the second half, grabbing four reboudns in a three-minute span. He finished with seven rebounds. Freshman guard Turtle Jackson also had good minutes running the offense, especially in the first half.
Kenny Paul Geno, who started for the first time in SEC play, provided some good minutes on both ends, though not points. Geno had started the first seven games of this season, then had come off the bench since then.
Since Geno stopped starting, the fifth spot in Georgia’s starting lineup has been a revolving door, between Ogbeide (three starts), Houston Kessler (four starts) and Mike Edwards (one start).
“I haven’t been pleased with the revolving door in that spot, so I gave Kenny Paul the start,” Fox said. “He didn’t fill up the stat sheet, but he played well.”
5. THE SHOE DIDN’T FIT
Georgia scored the final six points of the first half, helped by a very rare advantage: The other team’s leading scorer only had one shoe.
Michael Carrera’s right shoe came off around the two-minute mark, and South Carlina coach Frank Martin didn’t call a timeout.
Carrera, who was singled out for booing by the UGA student section throughout the game, had a tough night. He fouled out in the final minute on a technical foul, after arguing his fourth personal foul. A few seconds later Georgia was celebrating a much-needed victory.
“Our kids were determined today, but I think if you say our kids were more determined than they had been then that’s a disrespect to the commitment they made from day one,” Fox said. “I think these kids played their tails off every game trying to win, and we lost some close games. We won some close ones too, and we had a couple good wins. But our team was determined today to get another one.”