Mark Fox probably could find a hundred different ways he’d rather spend his 49th birthday than how the Georgia men’s basketball coach did Saturday.
His team—which had not lost at home all season—dropped a 64-57 decision to South Carolina in Stegeman Coliseum.
The Gamecocks made a run to the Final Four last season, but this year’s team is retooling and entered ranked 12th in the SEC in the RPI. It had not won a true road game since November when it beat Wofford and Florida International.
South Carolina never trailed on a day it crashed the offensive boards and forced Georgia into 14 turnovers with only seven assists. Even with the Gamecocks shooting a season-low 27.1 percent from the field, it was enough on an afternoon when Georgia made just 10 of 19 free throws in the second half when the game was there for the taking.
“We just got beat up on the backboards in the first half and then got ourselves back in position to win the game and our free throw shooting in the second half was really, really subpar,” Fox said.
Georgia (11-5, 2-3 SEC) will head to LSU for a Tuesday night game with its first two-game losing streak of the season.
“We’re looking to go on to the next one, go back and make up for this and keep making up for this and any other loss that we had previously,” said center Derek Ogbeide, who had three points and 10 rebounds.
South Carolina (11-6, 2-3) notched its first top 50 RPI win. Georgia entered the day No. 42.
South Carolina was No. 69 in the RPI and this is the kind of loss that could be costly for Georgia on Selection Sunday.
Only UMass at No. 175 is a lower ranked RPI loss for Georgia. The Bulldogs do have three top 50 RPI wins.
The Gamecocks had only seven turnovers and won despite going 6 of 26 from the field in the second half.
“Is that all we made?” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said.
Georgia had two more field goals than South Carolina but shot 35.3 percent from the floor.
“We took good shots, we just didn’t make them today,” Martin said. “If you don’t do all the other things the right way, your teams not going to win. We did the other things the right way today.”
Georgia senior forward Yante Maten tied the game at 49 on an inside score with 3:35 to go, but Gamecocks guard Frank Booker responded by draining a 3-pointer from the left corner.
After Maten made one of two free throws, the Gamecocks reeled off a 7-0 spurt that included another Booker 3-pointer with 1:22 left to open a 59-50 lead. The 6-foot-3 guard from Augusta came off the bench to score 17 points and grab seven rebounds.
“We had several opportunities that could have turned the game any way we wanted but it’s just another thing in the book of poorness that we had,” Ogbeide said of free throw shooting in a game he was 1 of 3 from the line.
South Carolina outrebounded Georgia 25-14 in the first half and 46-42 in a game in which it grabbed 18 offensive rebounds.
“We didn’t take care of the boards in the first half it allowed them to get some confidence and some second-half opportunities.,” Maten said.
The Gamecocks turned 13 offensive into 11 second-chance points in the first half.
“We knew they were going long so we tried to get in a spot,” Maten said. “A couple of bad bounces. At the end of the day, it’s going to come down to who wants it more. I’d personally put that on me because I know I let up a lot of rebounds.”
Maten responded from a season-low 9 point outing at Missouri to finish with 25 points, eight rebounds and four blocks. Guard Juwan Parker, who had a four-point play in the first half, was the only other Bulldog in double figures with 11.
Gamecocks forward Chris Silva, a 6-foot-9, 223-pound junior forward, had a team-high nine rebounds including four on the offensive glass.
“They have a very strong and physical frontline as do we and as those guys are locked up while the ball’s in the air, your perimeter players have to chase down the long rebounds,” Fox said. “We did a little better job in the second half but we dug ourselves a hole.”
Silva finished with 14 points and nine rebounds. He gathered a missed 3-pointer and fed guard Hassani Gravett for a 3-pointer with 34 seconds left in the first half for a 37-29 advantage.
The Bulldogs tied the game three times but trailed for more than 38 minutes in losing for the first time in nine home games this season.
Point guard Turtle Jackson had 9 points on 3 of 15 shooting with five turnovers and two assists.
“This is a game where your guards have to make some plays off the bounce,” Fox said. “We didn’t make enough of those.”
The biggest ovation on this day was when Georgia football coach Kirby Smart, fresh off a trip to the national championship game, was shown sitting in the crowd of 9,788 in the second half.
“South Carolina’s a very good defensive team,” Fox said. “We anticipated that it would be a slugfest and when you have a game like that you have to do things like rebound and make free throws to win and we didn’t do that.”