ATHENS, Ga. -- Trey Thompkins scored 20 points, Travis Leslie added 15 and Georgia cruised to a win it had to have, blowing out South Carolina 64-48 Saturday night.
Coming off a loss at Florida, the Bulldogs (19-9, 8-6 Southeastern Conference) knew another defeat against last-place South Carolina (14-13, 5-9) would be a huge blow to their on-the-bubble NCAA chances.No problem. Georgia raced to a double-digit lead before the game was 10 minutes old, making it 17-6 on Jeremy Price's dunk. The Bulldogs were up 39-22 at the half in a replay of their first meeting with South Carolina, when they led 28-9 going to the break.In that one, Georgia needed Thompkins' block in the final seconds to preserve a 60-56 win. A sluggish start to the second half had the home crowd grumbling, but the Bulldogs soon got rolling again and led by as many as 24.The 19th win matched the most for the Bulldogs since an academic and pay-for-play scandal in 2003 led to the ouster of coach Jim Harrick and sent the program into a tailspin. Georgia has two chances in the next week -- at home against LSU, on the road vs. Alabama -- to pick up a 20th victory that would sure look good when the 68-team NCAA field is selected.South Carolina had a miserable shooting night, going 1-of-19 from 3-point range and finishing 17-of-60 (28 percent) overall. The Gamecocks didn't play much defense, either, giving up several highlight-show dunks and allowing Georgia to shoot 50 percent most of the game.Malik Cooke led South Carolina with 11 points.Price scored 14 despite getting an earful from coach Mark Fox for a hot-dogging play midway through the first half. The senior forward had a clear path to the basket but decided to flip a lob pass to Leslie, who was flying in off the wing. Leslie was fouled on the attempted dunk and Fox stormed off the bench, yelling at Price.The coach signaled for Chris Barnes to go in and waited for Price to trot over sheepishly between the two free throws. Fox pulled his player close for a lecture, but the two patted each other on the backside before Price headed to take a seat. A few minutes later, he came back in the game.The Bulldogs were rolling by the end of the first half. Leslie got another chance to wow the crowd when he blew by the Gamecocks' phantom defense, rocking the rim with a thunderous right-handed dunk. Two possessions later, Gerald Robinson took off on nearly the same move from the opposite side, jamming it in, too.South Carolina guard Eric Smith, sitting on the bench, got up to implore someone -- anyone -- to put a stop to Georgia's dunkfest.Georgia has struggled to close out games, and it looked like that would be the case again when they missed a layup, a dunk and turned it over three times to start the second half.But South Carolina couldn't take advantage, only cutting it to 39-27 while the Bulldogs struggled. Georgia finally scored when Price dunked off a pass from Leslie with 16:30 remaining, and the rout was back on.