LEXINGTON, Ky. — (USC SID) No. 24/24 South Carolina (15-4, 5-1 SEC) was handed its first conference loss of the season Saturday evening at Rupp Arena, as it fell 85-69 to No. 5 Kentucky (17-2, 7-0 SEC). Senior Sindarius Thornwell led all scorers with a new career-high 34 points.
The Wildcats forced three turnovers early and jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead. They extended the lead to 10, 13-3, at the first media timeout with 15:52 left. A transition hoop by Malik Monk pushed the lead to 23-6, forcing head coach Frank Martin to take a timeout with 11:26 to go. Carolina had eight turnovers and was 2-for-7 (29 percent) from the field to begin the contest. Kentucky started the game 9-for-13 (69 percent).
Freshman Hassani Gravett came off the bench and knocked down a 3 from the right wing, trimming the deficit to 28-15 with 8:03 to go in the first half. The Villa Rica, Ga., native, continued to swing momentum back in the Gamecocks favor as he had two steals and two transition hoops to make it 30-21 with 6:43 left.
Thornwell then threw down a huge dunk to cap an 8-0 run, bringing Carolina within seven, 30-23, at the under eight media timeout with 5:46 to go. The Lancaster, S.C., native pushed the run to 12-0 after knocking down four-straight free throws to bring the Gamecocks within three, 30-27, with 4:39 on the clock. Derek Willis knocked down a 3 to end the drought for the Wildcats on the ensuing possession to bring the score to 33-27 at the final media timeout of the first half with 3:53 to go.
Kentucky pushed its lead back to double-digits, but Thornwell was able to get to the rim to make it 39-31 with just over two minutes to go in the half. The Wildcats answered immediately as Monk drew contact from behind the arc and knocked all three free throws down to make it 42-31 with 1:58 on the clock.
Monk and Thornwell then exchanged 3s as the lead remained 11 with 42 seconds left in the half. Thornwell drove to the hole and drew a foul with 0.4 seconds left. He knocked down both shots at the charity stripe as the Gamecocks trailed by nine heading to halftime, 47-38.
Thornwell led all scorers at the break with 20 points (5-of-10 from the field, 9-of-10 from the free throw line). He had 19 points over a nine-minute stretch in the opening half. Gravett had seven to lead all bench players. Carolina shot 52 percent in the opening half (13-of-25), and Kentucky shot 65 percent (17-of-26).
The Gamecocks opened the second half on a 5-0 run, forcing a timeout by Wildcat head coach John Calapari with 18:28 to go and the score 47-42. Kentucky respond with a 7-0 run to push its lead back to double-digits, 55-44, forcing Martin to take a timeout with 16:09 remaining.
Two 3s from the left wing by sophomore TeMarcus Blanton cut the score to 60-52 with 13:40 to go, but the Wildcats pushed the lead back to 10, 64-54, at the under-12 media timeout with 11:39 on the clock.
Thornwell had a tip in put back off his own miss with 10:20 to go and made it 67-57. The basket marked his 28th point and a new career-high for the senior guard. A dunk by Edrice Adebayo put the lead back at 14, 71-57, at the next media timeout with 7:08 left in the game.
The Gamecocks got some solid looks down the stretch but were unable to breakthrough the final seven minutes, as Kentucky led by double-digits the rest of the way en route to the 85-69 victory.