COLUMBIA, S.C.-- Georgia had a familiar choice to make. Holding a three-point lead with 11.7 seconds left in the game, should the Bulldogs foul before their opponent attempted a game-tying 3-pointer?
Georgia again chose to trust their defense. This time it worked. Trey Thompkins blocked Bruce Ellington's tying attempt and the Bulldogs held on after nearly blowing a 23-point second half lead to beat South Carolina 60-56 on Saturday.
The Bulldogs (17-7, 6-4 Southeastern Conference) remain in second place in the SEC East and have won three league road games this season, the most since 2003. The win also improves their NCAA resume -- they have yet to lose a game to a team they are supposed to beat this season.
Georgia coach Mark Fox remembers the last time he faced the decision whether to foul up three late. Florida's Erving Walker buried a 30-footer to send the game into a second overtime in the Gators 104-91 win in Athens. So in the huddle Saturday he pulled his team together.
"I asked them if they trusted their defense because I do," Fox said. "I didn't ask them if they wanted to foul. Do you trust your defense? I knew exactly what I was going to do, but I wanted them to reaffirm their trust to each other."
And the Bulldogs didn't want it to go to overtime. They never trailed and led 47-24 with 11 minutes to go before South Carolina (13-10, 4-6) ended the game on a 32-13 run to nearly pull this one out.
"The momentum was going their way definitely. I'm just glad he got the block," said Travis Leslie, who added 13 points for Georgia.
After starting SEC play 3-1, South Carolina has lost four of its last five. But coach Darrin Horn wasn't distraught over this one. He called the Gamecocks' nine-point first half a fluke -- their previous low for a half in SEC play was 13 -- and he was glad they were able to shake it off and climb back in the game.
The Gamecocks made just 4-of-28 shots in the first half, but shot 45.2 percent in the second half and made 14 straight free throws at one point to get back into this one.
"It is incredibly difficult to do what our young team did today," Horn said.
The Bulldogs looked to have put this one away with an 11-2 run after South Carolina cut its deficit to 14 points with 15:22 left. Dustin Ware and Leslie hit 3s, then Thompkins added a lay-up and another 3-pointer to put Georgia up 47-24 with 11 minutes left.
But South Carolina then went on a 23-7 run that started with a layup by Malik Cooke and three free throws by R.J Slawson. By the time Sam Muldrow hit his second 3-pointer of the game and Bruce Ellington made his first bucket, the Gamecocks were only down 54-47 with just under five minutes to go.
Cooke hit a layup and Muldrow hit two free throws and Georgia was up just 57-55 with 1:26 to go. But Jeremy Price answered with two free throws and South Carolina never had a chance to tie until Ellington's 3 was blocked.
Fox didn't worry about the nearly blown lead, saying comebacks are common in league games. The Bulldogs now have six SEC wins, eclipsing last year's total.
"We feel good because it is an SEC road win and we keep ourselves in position to play for something," Fox said.
Muldrow had four blocks, setting a career record at South Carolina with 251 blocks. His stuff of Chris Barnes on a dunk attempt with about eight minutes to go beat Brandon Wallace's record and moved him into the top 10 in the SEC career list. He won't be able to catch league and NCAA leader Jarvis Varnado's 564 blocks.
Muldrow also scored 13 points, all in the second half. Malik Cooke led the Gamecocks with 15 points. Ellington, South Carolina's leading scored at 14.7 points a game, scored just two points, but seemed hobbled for most of the game with a bruised calf.
Georgia dominated the first half, scoring the first eight points of the game before Jackson's fastbreak layup with 13:22 to go in the half cut the Bulldogs lead to 8-2. Jackson would be the only starter for the Gamecocks to score in the first 20 minutes.
It kept getting uglier, and a layup by Barnes with 4:49 to go in the first half put Georgia ahead 24-5.
The Gamecocks had a chance to hit double-digits in the first half, but Ramon Galloway missed the front end of a one-in-one with 2.5 seconds left.
"It was very frustrating," Muldrow said. "I've never been a part of anything like that."