ATHENS, Ga. — P.J. Dozier scored 24 points and Sindarius Thornwell had 19 in his return from a six-game suspension to lead South Carolina to a 67-61 win over Georgia in the Gamecocks’ Southeastern Conference opener on Wednesday night.
Thornwell, the SEC’s reigning defensive player of the year, had 11 rebounds, three blocks and six steals for South Carolina (11-3, 1-0 SEC).
Yante Maten led Georgia (9-5, 1-1) with 18 points, including a 3-pointer with about 1 minute remaining to cut South Carolina’s lead to 62-61. Thornwell’s tip-in of his own miss pushed the lead back to three points.
J.J. Frazier had 16 points for Georgia despite making only one of six 3-pointers.
Thornwell returned as a starter after completing the suspension for an unspecified violation of athletic department policy. He apologized to teammates and fans on Monday but would not say why he was suspended.
The Gamecocks were 7-0 and ranked No. 20 with Thornwell, who was averaging 18.7 points. They were 3-3 and fell out of the Top 25 during the suspension.
Even while missing Thornwell’s defensive leadership for six games, South Carolina led the SEC in scoring defense, allowing 59.3 points per game. His return added more strength to the defense which swarmed Maten, the SEC’s second-leading scorer, near the basket and frustrated the Bulldogs’ outside shooters.
South Carolina opened the second half with a 12-5 run to take its biggest lead at 48-39. Georgia cut the lead to 51-49 on Juwan Parker’s 3-pointer and Frazier’s fast-break layup on consecutive possessions.
South Carolina: Thornwell scored on the Gamecocks’ first possession and had six points in the first half. ... Dozier made two jumpers in the final 40 seconds of the first half, including a 3-pointer that just beat the buzzer as time ran out, giving the Gamecocks a 36-34 lead.
Georgia: Maten became the 48th 1,000-point scorer in school history. He needed 10 points to reach 1,000. Frazier reached the milestone on Nov. 14. ... Parker had 12 points while make each of his two 3-pointers. Overall, Georgia made only 4 of 13 3s.
South Carolina: Hosts Texas A&M on Saturday.
Georgia: Hosts Missouri on Saturday.