ATHENS — Georgia, the last-place team in the SEC East, is first in the Southeastern Conference in free-throw shooting.
That strength made the difference for the Bulldogs against South Carolina.
Georgia made nine straight free throws in the final 2:09, Jeremy Price scored 16 points in his first start of the season, including the go-ahead points with 1:09 remaining, and Georgia rallied to beat South Carolina 66-61 on Saturday.
Trey Thompkins made four free throws in the final 14 seconds and led the Bulldogs (11-12, 3-7 SEC) with 21 points and 10 rebounds.
“We know if it comes down to that we’ll take care of business on the free-throw line,” Thompkins said.
Georgia made 20 of 23 free throws (87 percent). Entering the day, it led the SEC with its 72.0 free-throw percentage.
Devan Downey and Brandis Raley-Ross each had 18 points for South Carolina (14-10, 5-5), which blew a 10-point lead midway through the second half.
The loss was a blow to the Gamecocks’ push for NCAA tournament consideration. South Carolina had won three of four, including wins over then-No. 1 Kentucky and Florida, before blowing the second-half lead.
“We had a few good stretches and a few bad ones, but on the road you need to be good all the time,” said South Carolina coach Darrin Horn.
“Bottom line is that we didn’t make the plays we needed to make. If you look at the stat sheet, we did a pretty decent job. But when the other team shoots 23 free throws and we only shoot six, it’s going to be tough.”
The Gamecocks made four of six free throws.
South Carolina led 52-42 with 9:10 remaining following a 3-pointer by Downey. Georgia pulled to within 59-58 on a three-point play by Price before taking the 60-59 lead with two free throws by Price with 1:09 remaining.
Travis Leslie, who had 15 points, added two free throws with 34 seconds remaining for a 62-59 lead.
“What is pleasing to me is that deep down inside we still had some fight in us,” Fox said. “We kept clawing away and had some shots go in and all of a sudden that determination deep inside started to show. ... I was really proud of them for that.”
Thompkins added four free throws to protect the lead.
“We just didn’t finish the way that we needed to and couldn’t get any shots to fall,” Downey said.
Downey, who leads the SEC with 23 points per game, missed three shots in the final 30 seconds. He was averaging 30.1 points in SEC games but made only 6 of 22 shots.
“He averages 30 in our league; there’s no way you don’t know where Devan Downey is,” Thompkins said. “We were always aware of where he was on the floor. We watched him get off the bus this morning.”
Price started for Albert Jackson, who was in uniform but did not play following his arrest Friday on an outstanding warrant stemming from a misdemeanor hit-and-run of a parked car in an Athens parking lot two years ago.
Jackson, a 6-foot-11 senior, averages 3.5 points and 3.7 rebounds per game.
Price, a 6-foot-8 junior, made 10 starts last season but had played only as a reserve for Fox before Saturday.
Price called the win “a big confidence boost for us.”
“We beat a pretty good team,” Price said.
“We’re looking for more wins against good teams.”
Georgia is 4-8 in its last 12 games, with its only other wins in that span coming against ranked teams — Georgia Tech, Tennessee and Vanderbilt.
Downey was only 1-for-7 from the field for two points before sinking two 3-pointers in the final 50 seconds of the first half for a 31-31 halftime tie.