The South Carolina men’s basketball team finished its regular season in the win column with a 61-55 victory over Georgia Saturday afternoon.
The game was close throughout — the highest lead at any given time being 8 points — but the Gamecocks executed toward the end of the game by maintaining its composure and making shots from the free throw line.
“I’m really happy for a lot of reasons: to get a conference win at home, for (graduate student forward) Hayden Brown to go out at home this way, for the fans, on the last home game of the season, to be able to watch a good, exciting win,” head coach Lamont Paris said.
South Carolina opened the game on a hot stretch, scoring the first 7 points of the game in just over two minutes and thirty seconds. Georgia managed to claw back into the game just before halftime, outscoring the Gamecocks 25-11 over the next 12 and a half minutes to give themselves a 25-18 lead with 5:03 remaining in the first half.
South Carolina went on another scoring stretch and held Georgia to just one successful field goal over the final five minutes, bringing the halftime deficit to 2 points.
The second half was more of a back-and-forth affair between the two teams, as they exchanged leads seven different times and were tied 10 different times throughout the period.
The turning point in the game proved to be South Carolina’s effectiveness on free throws late in the second half. Even though the Gamecocks shot from a lower clip from the charity stripe (61.3% compared to 92.3% by Georgia), the team made five free throws — three by sophomore guard Jacobi Wright and two by sophomore guard Meechie Johnson — to seal the win.
“You’d like to think that past experiences affect, positively, future performances,” Paris said. “We made some decisions and made some plays down the stretch that allowed us to win when we’ve probably had similar games where we didn’t make decisions.”
The Gamecocks also made more trips to the free throw line than the Bulldogs, attempting 31 free throws to Georgia's 13. South Carolina earned these fouls by maintaining a physical presence in the paint, out-rebounding the Bulldogs 40-25. Junior forward Josh Gray provided 13 of these rebounds to the home team.
While Gray, along with Johnson and Wright, who scored 18 and 14 points, respectively, delivered big performances on offense, another key contributor for South Carolina was Brown, who scored 13 points on 5-10 shooting and grabbed five rebounds.
Brown was honored in a pregame ceremony for Senior Day and said he was grateful to win his final regular season game with his teammates.
“For the past two weeks, I’ve been thinking about it. Honestly, I can’t help it because it has been the last six years of my life,” Brown said. “It’s a formative six years of somebody’s life, and so what the game has meant to me, where it’s taken me, who I’ve met, the memories I’ve had — it’s so sweet.”
After clinching its first home victory of the 2023 season, the Gamecocks (11-20, 4-14 SEC) will enter the SEC Tournament as a No. 12 seed and face off against No. 13 seed Ole Miss (11-20, 3-15 SEC) in the opening round on Wednesday at 7 p.m. The game will air on the SEC Network.
“I’m excited. I know Hayden and everybody is excited, and no matter what, Gamecock nation has been amazing,” Johnson said. “We’re just going to go out there and give it our all.”