Q: How do you lose a 13-point lead with only 4:16 to play in the game?
A: Commit 5 turnovers and score 2 points
When Albert Jackson made both free throws to put Georgia on top 65-52 with only 4:16 left in the game, I definitely was starting to think that the Dawgs could pull off their first SEC win of the season (and on the road at that).
But Mississippi State had other things in mind. The Bulldogs got into a full-court trap press that forced UGA into multiple turnovers, and essentially “all-out panic mode”. State made three 3-point shots (they were merely 5-25 from beyond the arc before that) and finished out the game with a 20-4 run.
This leaves the Georgia Bulldogs with an 8-8 record overall, and winless in the SEC (0-3). This was Georgia’s third straight game in which they led at the half yet still lost. I am still pleased with everything that Coach Mark Fox is getting out of this team that is generally less talented than it’s opponents (MSU was favored by 13.5), but I am also worried that the team’s morale could take a hit.
The Dawgs are staying in these games by mostly sheer will and effort, and today was no different as they pulled down an outstanding 18 offensive rebounds (a very telling “effort” stat). If the losses continue to pile up, will the effort eventually deteriorate?
I thought that Georgia’s bigs gave them very good minutes today. Albert Jackson scored a season-high 11 points to go along with 6 rebounds (if he hadn’t made the turnover at the end that led to a Phil Turner 3-pointer I might go so far as to say he played a perfect game). Jeremy Price played hard and finished with 6 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists (unfortunately, he too had a terrible turnover at the end that led to Miss St points). Chris Barnes only played 12 minutes, but he was productive as he grabbed 4 rebounds (3 offensive) and scored 3 points.
All and all, the UGA bench gave Coach Fox a much better performance today. Thompkins picked up his 2nd foul with 8:47 left in the first half…after the State player made the two free throws, the UGA lead was cut to 18-15. This was the last action that Trey would see for the rest of the half, yet his compatriots were able to build the lead up to 41-30 at the break.
Travis Leslie finished with a pretty good line – 14 points, 15 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 steals – but he got a majority of those stats in the first half. Mississippi State clamped down on Leslie in the second half, holding him to only 2 points on 1 of 7 shooting from the field. However, Leslie did catch two more backdoor alley-oop dunks (he leads the country in this statistic with 6 on the season), and he continues to be my favorite player for his relentless hustle (and highlights).
Miss State came into today’s game averaging nearly 10 three-point field goals a game. At the half, State had only made one. The Bulldogs heated up in the second half to hit 7 more threes, and their defensive intensity did a complete 180 from the lackluster performance in the first half.
MSU guards Dee Bost and Phil Turner led the Bulldogs with 15 apiece, and Varnado added 14 points, 14 rebounds and 6 blocks.
Georgia ran a 3-2 zone defense for almost 85% of the game (it felt like), and for the most part it worked well as the Dawgs were able frustrate MSU from beyond the arc – State shot 8 of 31, or only 25.8% (they usually shoot over 41%).
At the end of the game though, it seemed like the Bulldogs were getting better penetration from Bost which led to more wide-open 3PT looks on kick-outs (I would have like to see Fox switch to a man-to-man defense with 3:30 left).
This was a tough one to swallow…what’s everybody else think?