Finally, Nemanja Djurisic and the Bulldogs added a healthy supply of offense to the mix.
Djurisic shook a recent scoring slump with a career-high 22 points, and Georgia beat South Carolina 97-76 on Wednesday night, leaving the Gamecocks with their worst SEC start in 15 years.
Former Whitefield Academy star Kenny Gaines had 14 points, Brandon Morris had 13 and Marcus Thornton had 12 for Georgia (10-7, 4-1 Southeastern Conference).
Djurisic, a former starter who has played behind Thornton and Donte Williams this season, scored nine of Georgia’s first 11 points and didn’t miss from the field all night. Djurisic made each of his six shots from the field, including three 3-pointers.
“I had a good feeling,” said Djurisic, who added he has accepted his role off the bench. “It’s something I’ve accepted the whole season. Some scoring from the bench is what the team needs and I’ve adjusted pretty well.”
South Carolina (7-11, 0-5 SEC) has lost its first five conference games for the first time since a 0-6 start in the 1998-99 season.
Coach Frank Martin said his South Carolina players were flat on defense from the start.
“We had no life,” Martin said. “We couldn’t guard them from the jump ball. We tried every defense we have, and that was our concern going into the game. Georgia just really attacks you and they drive you and we couldn’t keep the ball in front of us.”
Added Martin: “It’s hard to win if you can’t guard the basketball.”
Freshman Sindarius Thornwell led South Carolina with a career-high 26 points. Brenton Williams had 18 and Duane Notice added 14.
The Gamecocks are 0-6 on the road.
South Carolina’s starting forwards Demetrius Henry and Michael Carrera combined for one point while missing each of their eight shots from the field.
Georgia took a 39-27 advantage in rebounds.
“I’m obviously doing a crappy job of coaching because these guys can’t grab a rebound off a free throw and they can’t make a layup,” Martin said.
Caldwell-Pope left Georgia following his sophomore season and was the No. 8 overall pick in the NBA draft by the Detroit Pistons. The Bulldogs struggled to replace Caldwell-Pope’s scoring early in the season but set a season scoring high against the Gamecocks.
“It took us a while to figure out how to play without Kentavious, but I think we have a better understanding about how this group needs to play to win,” said Georgia coach Mark Fox.
The Bulldogs have their best start in the league since 2003, when they also were 4-1.
“There’s a long way to go in the league,” Fox said. “It’s way too early to talk about anything other than the next game.”
Georgia plays at No. 14 Kentucky on Saturday.
Asked if the strong start in the SEC schedule is a surprise, Djurisic said “I don’t know about 4-1, but we believe we can do something special this year. We believe in ourselves.”
Georgia began the night last in the league with its average of 63 points in SEC games. The Bulldogs blew past that average as they made 10 of 18 3-pointers and shot 55.1 percent from the field overall, making 27 of 49 shots.
Djurisic sank back-to-back 3-pointers to cap an 11-0 run as Georgia pulled away early in the second half. Djurisic, a junior forward, snapped a slump after managing a combined 11 points in his last three games.
Djurisic’s 3-pointer gave the Bulldogs a 9-6 lead they wouldn’t lose.
Georgia made six 3-pointers and 17 of 22 free throws in the half. Georgia pushed its lead to double figures for the first time at 25-13 on Juwan Parker’s 3-pointer with 11:17 remaining and took a big lead of 15 points at 43-28 on Gaines’ 3-pointer. The Bulldogs led 45-35 at halftime.
Georgia led by 11 before pulling away with the 11-0 run that left the lead at 64-42.
There were a combined 59 fouls called, including 33 on South Carolina, and 86 free throws attempted. Georgia made 33 of 50 free throws, and the Gamecocks made 24 of 36.