The South Carolina men's basketball team (19-3, 7-2 SEC) defeated the Georgia Bulldogs (14-8, 4-5 SEC) 72-62 on the road in Athens Saturday despite early struggles in the first half. The Gamecocks are second in the SEC standings behind the No. 24 Alabama Crimson Tide.
Georgia came out hot and put up eight 3-pointers in the first half. The Bulldogs' leading scorer was senior guard Jabri Abdur-Rahim, who totaled four 3-pointers and led the team with 20 points.
South Carolina had a slower start, trailing 29-19 with eight minutes left in the first half. The Gamecocks managed to shrink the deficit down to 2 points by halftime, going into the break 40-38.
Entering the second half, the Gamecocks reclaimed its dominance on defense, allowing the Bulldogs only one 3-pointer in the second half.
Junior guard Meechie Johnson got the Gamecocks going on offense, scoring three 3-pointers across the two halves. Graduate student guard Ta’lon Cooper also aided the Gamecocks' comeback, picking up three 3-pointers and eight assists overall.
But it was not the offense alone that led the team to victory. Though the Gamecocks' defense allowed 40 points in the first half, it allowed just 22 points in the second.
“Everything with us starts with defense," Cooper said. "We came in the second half. We said, 'We've got to get stops. We can’t keep trading buckets,' and that’s what we did.''
The Gamecocks dominated the paint, accumulating 40 points by the end of the game. The two leading scorers for South Carolina were freshman forward Collin Murray-Boyles and senior forward Josh Gray.
Murray-Boyles scored 16 points and grabbed five rebounds, while Gray recorded a season-high 15 points as well as eight rebounds.
"Josh is massive,” head coach Lamont Paris said. “Josh is a good teammate. He plays hard — doesn't say too much. Not a lot of complaints coming out of his mouth. I respect that.”
South Carolina shared the ball a lot, netting 25 assists as a team compared to Georgia’s 10.
South Carolina is on a five-game win streak and is looking to become ranked for the first time this season. The Gamecocks have defeated two top-10 teams — then-No. 6 Kentucky and No. 5 Tennessee — over the past two weeks.
The AP poll releases college basketball rankings every Monday at about 1 p.m.
Murray-Boyles said he thinks South Carolina deserves to be ranked but that, regardless of its ranking, the team's playing style will remain the same.
"I would say (we are) at least top-20 in my opinion,” Murray-Boyles said. “But we don't really care about that. We play with a chip on our shoulder the whole time, so wherever they put us is where they put us. We ain't going to play no differently."
South Carolina will play Ole Miss (18-3, 5-3 SEC) on Tuesday, Feb. 6, at Colonial Life Arena at 6:30 p.m. The game will be available to stream on the SEC Network.