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February 28, 2002

AP Sports Writer

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) – Rashad Wright made a tying 3-pointer with 5.4 seconds left to get Georgia to overtime, then Steve Thomas scored six points to give the 16th-ranked Bulldogs an 82-75 victory over South Carolina on Wednesday night.

The improbable finish pushed Georgia (21-7, 10-5) into a first-place tie with Florida in the Southeastern Conference East with one game remaining. The Bulldogs also clinched a bye in the SEC tournament when No. 11 Kentucky was upset by Vanderbilt.

South Carolina (16-12, 6-9) could have given a major boost to its hopes of landing an NCAA tournament at-large bid. Instead, the Gamecocks took a devastating loss.

South Carolina led 70-67 and had Aaron Lucas _ a 66 percent free throw shooter _ at the line for two shots with 11 seconds to go in regulation. Improbably, he missed both, Georgia rebounded and raced down the court.

Wright found an opening just outside the arc and made the 3-pointer that sent the game to overtime, preventing Georgia from losing its fifth straight to South Carolina.

Thomas scored six of Georgia’s first eight points in overtime, including two throws with 28 seconds remaining that sealed the victory. The Bulldogs scored their last eight points on free throws _ a striking contrast to South Carolina’s 10-of-19 performance at the line.

Wright hit the game-winning shot in a victory at LSU on Saturday. This time, his heroics gave coach Jim Harrick his 450th career victory.

Chuck Eidson put South Carolina ahead for the first time since the first half when he converted a three-point play with 2:55 remaining, giving the Gamecocks a 66-63 lead.

Georgia fought back to tie the score at 67 on Wright’s pull-up jumper with 1:01 to go, but South Carolina seemed headed for victory when Jamel Bradley made two free throws with 22 seconds left for a 70-67 lead.

The Bulldogs missed one chance to tie when Jarvis Hayes’ 3-point attempt clanked off the rim, but would get another after Lucas failed at the foul line.

Thomas led Georgia with 16 points and 10 rebounds.

Rolando Howell scored 19 points for the Gamecocks.

South Carolina built a 10-point lead in the first half, but Georgia appeared to be in control after closing the period with a 25-4 run. The Bulldogs couldn’t miss, hitting 11 consecutive shots and ending the half by making 13-of-14 from the field for a 44-33 lead.

Sparked by Bradley, South Carolina scored the first 11 points of the second half to pull even at 44.

From that point, both teams struggled to take control, each going through long dry spells that prevented either from pulling away.