South Carolina basketball was getting run out of Rupp Arena on Saturday with PJ Dozier on the bench, a 17-point deficit on the floor and no sign of life.
But, as has been the case of late, senior guard Sindarius Thornwell was a force. The senior guard was everything for South Carolina, but even that was not enough as the Gamecocks were overmatched, buried in foul trouble inside and facing a loaded Kentucky team in a battle for first place in the SEC.
The No. 24 Gamecocks (15-4, 5-1) dropped their first SEC game of the season, an 85-69 loss to No. 5 Kentucky (17-2, 6-0) on Saturday.
Thornwell was outstanding, scoring a career-high 34 points to keep the Gamecocks in the game through the first 30 minutes.
Kentucky’s Malik Monk made his mark felt, shooting incredibly from deep and making plays off the dribble. With his backcourt mate, De’Aaron Fox, sidelined early with an ankle injury, the SEC’s leading scorer took over and had 27 points, hitting four 3-pointers.
The Gamecocks trailed 23-6 early, but after falling behind 30-15, USC put together a run. Thornwell kicked it off with a monster slam. Hassani Gravett scored twice in transition before Thornwell had an even louder dunk and a pair of free throws to cut the lead to 30-27.
South Carolina cut Kentucky’s lead to 48-44 early in the second half, but Kentucky took control the rest of the way behind Monk.
Player of the game
In a losing effort, Thornwell showed why he is one of the best players in the SEC this season. He was everything for the Gamecocks on offense and willed the team back into the game a few times.
He set a new career high with a short putback with 10:20 to play in the second half, giving him 28 points.
SINDARIUS ??? pic.twitter.com/u0WEX7hwgE
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) January 21, 2017
Monk broke a half-court trap, drew foul on Sedee Keita, made a lefty layup and free throw to end a 6-1 South Carolina run.
Rupp Arena still was quiet, but Derek Willis changed that. The big man cut down the lane, took a pass and slammed home a poster-worthy dunk over Keita. Rupp woke up, South Carolina trailed 53-44 and Monk added to it with an alley-oop to Willis.
What’s next for South Carolina basketball
South Carolina hosts Auburn (13-6) at Colonial Life Arena at 6:30 p.m. ET Tuesday.