COLUMBIA, S.C. — There was still life late in J.J. Frazier’s game. And there’s still life left in Georgia’s season.
Frazier’s late heroics propelled Georgia to a 74-72 road upset of South Carolina, a second straight win for a Bulldogs team that a week ago seemed lost.
“We don’t quit. People can count us out, write us off, it doesn’t matter to us,” Frazier said. “We know who we are as a team. We know who we are as individuals. We take the identity of our head coach (Mark Fox). He doesn’t quit, we don’t quit.”
The victory gave Georgia a season sweep over South Carolina (24-7 overall, 10-7 in the SEC), a team likely headed for an NCAA tournament berth. Georgia (16-12, 9-8) has had a disappointing season, but is it still now assured of a .500 record in SEC play for a fourth straight season, a first in program history.
Five observations from Colonial Life Arena:
1. FRAZIER FOR THE WIN
Frazier had a relatively quiet first 35 minutes. His finish made up for it.
The junior’s running bank shot gave Georgia a one-point lead with 2:30 left, after South Carolina had seemed in control. A few minutes later he hit a step-back 3 to make it a six-point game. And his free throws in the final minute sealed the win.
Frazier had been missing some open looks, but during a timeout late in the game Fox pulled him aside.
“If you get a good look, you knock it down, we believe in you every time,” Fox said, according to Frazier.
There were several other big plays in the final five minutes: Kenny Gaines hit a big 3. Charles Mann had a great strip after Frazier’s bank shot. Yante Maten put back a Frazier missed 3 to make it 66-63.
But Frazier was the story again. He came close to a triple-double, finishing with 19 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.
“Not trying to be selfish or anything I wanted to keep the ball in my hands,” Frazier said. “Let myself make the play for my teammates. Kenny made big shots in crucial moments. And Chuck made big plays, like the steal at the baseline. So it was a team effort. But it was my turn to make plays.”
2. GAINES AND MANN PLAY BIG THROUGH MALADIES
Gaines, who has been dealing with a nagging bruise on his right shooting hand the past few weeks, appeared to re-injure it in the second half after reaching in for a loose ball. He could be seen wincing and rubbing the hand.
But a few minutes later he drained a contested 3 from the corner, pulling Georgia within one. He finished the game with 20 points, and his first-half performance — he had 14 of Georgia’s first 25 points — helped his team lead by as many as eight.
Mann has battled a stomach bug this week, per a team spokesman, and received IVs during the day in the lead-up to the game.
Mann didn’t look that affected, playing hard and grabbing five rebounds in the first half. At one point in the first half he hit the ground hard after going up for a shot. He finished the game with just six points, all at the free throw line, and had eight rebounds.
3. LETTING IT FLY
Gone was Georgia’s usual deliberate half-court approach. From the opening tip it appeared Georgia was a trying to take shots as soon as it reasonably could. Their longest possession in the first six minutes ended with 10 seconds left on the shot clock.
The result was Georgia’s highest-scoring first half since Jan. 9, and its third-most points in a first half this season. The Bulldogs led by nine early in the second half, only to see the Gamecocks rally and lead by as many as five. That’s when Frazier and Gaines got going again, with well-timed plays by others.
4. AN UNEXPECTED STRENGTH
Free throws have hurt Georgia in some games, and it came in having made just 68.1 percent this year.
It was a completely different story this time: Georgia started 23-for-27, with four different players making at least four free throws. Frazier’s free throws in the final minute helped stave off the frantic Gamecock comeback.
5. SEC TOURNAMENT IMPLICATIONS
Georgia now has a real chance to finish as high as fifth in the conference.
The Bulldogs are currently in a three-way tie for sixth with Ole Miss and Arkansas, one game behind South Carolina. If Georgia beats Alabama on Saturday, and South Carolina loses at Arkansas, then Georgia would own any tiebreaker and be the fifth seed.
But a loss to Alabama could, depending on other results, still send Georgia down to as low as the 10th seed.
Either way, Georgia is set to open play next Thursday.