COLUMBIA, S.C. – The South Carolina men’s basketball team (23-7, 10-7 SEC) dropped a slugfest in its home finale Thursday night, losing 74-72 to Georgia (16-12, 9-8). The two sides would exchange the lead four times in the second half behind big runs, with the Bulldogs pulling ahead in the final three minutes to hold on for the win.
Mindaugas Kacinas led the team with 21 points on his senior night, with fellow seniors Michael Carreraand Laimonas Chatkevicius also providing big moments in their final game at Colonial Life Arena.
The Gamecocks came off the tip fired up and saw their first eight points come from Kacinas and Carrera, but the aggressive pace would work against them. After taking an 8-2 lead just three minutes in, South Carolina went through a four-minute scoreless drought that was compounded by a 10-0 run by Georgia to flip the score in its favor. Kacinas broke the stretch with his third-straight made 3-pointer, but the rest of the team shot just 1-of-10 from the field in the opening eight minutes.
Georgia’s defensive zone slowed down South Carolina’s penetration, forcing the Gamecocks to settle for 3s on almost half (16 of 37) of their possessions in the first half. When they could work it inside in the first half, they saw an effective performance from Laimonas Chatkevicius, who finished the opening period with six points and six rebounds.
After the 10-0 run to take over the lead, the Bulldogs held the lead for the rest of the half, pushing ahead by as much as eight before the Gamecocks cut it to 39-34 by the horn. Kacinas’ nine points led the way for the home side, while Georgia’s Kenny Gaines led all scorers with 14.
The Bulldogs opened the second half with four-straight points and threatened to put the game out of reach early, but the Gamecocks responded with an 8-0 run to cut the deficit to 43-42. The Lithuanians scored on back-to-back possessions, and Sindarius Thornwell converted on two trips down the court after that to force Georgia into an early timeout.
South Carolina wasn’t able to fully capitalize on the run, though, as it missed six-straight shots and committed four turnovers over the next five minutes. That cold stretch allowed the Bulldogs to pull back ahead by multiple possessions, 47-42, with 12 minutes left to play.
Michael Carrera started his night uncharacteristically cold from the field, missing three of his first 16 shots from the field, but he would heat up at just the right time to get the Gamecocks out of their slump. The senior hit a 3 from the top of the key, then poked the ball away for a fast-break dunk on the very next possession to tie the game up at 49 and send the crowd into a frenzy. On Georgia’s next possession, he pulled down a rebound and drew a foul. His two makes gave Carolina its first lead of the night and capped a personal 7-0 run in just under 90 seconds.
Georgia went over eight minutes without a field goal to allow the Gamecocks to take the lead, but a quick 7-0 pushed the visitors back ahead 57-55 after Carolina had a pair of misses around the basket.
The lead yo-yoed back to Carolina after baskets on three-straight possessions made it 63-60 with just 3:32 left to play. Thornwell again found success on the dribble-drive and earned a pair of easy baskets inside to help his side retake the lead. Georgia would get the last punch, though, with an 11-0 run to take the 71-63 lead heading into the final minute that would be too much to overcome. Carolina hit a trio of 3s in the final 30 seconds, but the Bulldogs hit their free throws and held off any chance of a comeback.
In a back-and-forth second half, Georgia would go on the decisive run when it mattered most, reeling off 11-straight points from the 3:32 mark until just 38 seconds remained to clinch the win after trailing 63-60 at the start of the run.
Georgia was able to keep the Gamecocks off the boards in the second half, owning a sizable 26-13 advantage in rebounds for the final 20 minutes. The 35 total rebounds for South Carolina is the lowest since Feb. 6 at Texas A&M (32) and the team is now 2-5 when being out-rebounded this season.
South Carolina concludes the regular season when it travels to face Arkansas on Saturday. The Gamecocks will have their first Thursday-Saturday turnaround of the season, facing the Razorbacks on the road just 46 hours after tip-off vs. Georgia on Thursday. Game time vs. Arkansas is set for 5 p.m. ET, with Matt Stewart (play-by-play) and John Pelphrey (analyst) on the call for the SEC Network.