The Georgia Bulldogs (14-5; 3-3) certainly didn’t play their most complete game of the season last night against the #23 Florida Gators. They turned the ball over too much (20 times to be exact) and they couldn’t defend Florida’s guard tandem of Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton – they scored 24 apiece.
But it’s hard to find too much fault in the Dawgs‘ overall effort, as they showed a lot of heart last night (especially near the end).
When Erving Walker scored with 3:08 left in regulation to put his team up 72-64, it appeared as though the game was over. Fans started exiting Stegeman in hopes of beating the traffic for their commutes home.
I looked over at my buddy sitting next to me at the game and said, “Georgia is going to need some sort of Reggie Miller-type miracle to happen”.
And the Dawgs nearly got it. Dustin Ware found Jeremy Price for a wide open dunk, and on the next possession Ware stole the ball and took it the length of the floor before getting fouled. Dustin buried both free throws and all of a sudden Georgia was only down by four with 1:28 left.
After a missed three-pointer by Erving Walker, Georgia took the ball to their end of the floor before calling timeout to draw up a play with only 28 seconds remaining. Coming out of the timeout, Gerald Robinson, Jr, who had been a non-factor for a majority of the game, canned a long three to bring his team within a point.
Florida’s Erving Walker connected on only one of his two free throw attempts, and the Dawgs now had the ball with 21 seconds to go and a chance to tie or win the game. Things got a little frantic on this last possession, with Jeremy Price holding the ball in his hands at the three-point line with roughly six seconds left. Price managed to find Ware though, who drove the ball to the basket and put up a shot that missed, but Trey Thompkins was there to put it back in with time expiring – sending the game to overtime.
Georgia had done it. They had come back from eight points down in three minutes to send the game to overtime.
And in the first overtime, it looked like the Dawgs were going to win it. Jeremy Price calmly sunk two free throws to put his team up 85-82 with only 6 seconds remaining. At this point, it seemed as though the Dawgs had the victory – they were going to steal one away from the Gators in a game that they probably didn’t deserve to win.
But then Erving Walker drove the ball the length of the floor and nailed an NBA-range three-pointer to send the game to a second overtime.
It felt like the air was let out of the building (and the Georgia basketball team).
Georgia forgot to show up for the second overtime, and Florida took advantage. The Gators out-scored the Dawgs 19-6 on 7 points off of turnovers and 6 second-chance points. Florida’s Chandler Parsons must have been ready to head back to Gainesville, because the senior scored 9 points in the second OT, shoving the nail into the coffin.
When you play a team as good as Florida, you cannot give the ball to them 20 times because they will make you pay. The Gators got 25 points off of Georgia turnovers, which was a major difference-maker in this game. Georgia’s Gerald Robinson and Travis Leslie were the leading culprits, with six turnovers apiece.
To Leslie’s credit though, all six of his turnovers came in the first half. Travis cleaned up his game, and gave Coach Fox a monster second-half effort, scoring 16 of his 21 points after the break.
Robinson, however, did not show up for the Dawgs on Tuesday night. GR2 picked up 2 fouls early in the game, forcing him to sit for 15 minutes in the first half. Other than the three-pointer he hit at the end of regulation, Robinson never seemed to return to the game. He finished with just 7 points, his lowest output this season in an SEC game. GR2 picked a tough night to lay an egg.
Florida center Vernon Macklin led his team with 23 points and 9 rebounds, punishing Georgia’s Jeremy Price and Chris Barnes on the block. His 23 points was a season-high, and 6 of his 9 boards were of the offensive variety.
This was the second time this season in which Georgia has allowed an opposing SEC center to set a season best against them. Vanderbilt’s Festus Ezeli dropped 18 points on the Dawgs in Nashville, which is his highest output thus far this season in SEC play.
Price and Barnes (if they are capable) must give Georgia better interior defense as the season moves forward. They cannot continue to play the role of “dinner” to opposing SEC centers.
Junior Trey Thompkins, who played valiantly through an apparent ankle injury, led Georgia with 13 rebounds as well as 20 points. Right now, Trey is the only big on the team that is consistently blocking out and defensive rebounding (8 of his 13 boards came on the defensive glass on Tuesday). Price and Barnes finished with just 4 defensive rebounds between them, which is unacceptable.
Travis Leslie probably put it best after the game, saying that this was a “devastating loss”. He is right – it was a devastating loss.
Georgia now sits at 3-3 in the conference, with impending trips to Kentucky and Arkansas on the schedule. After winning in Athens, the Gators are now in the driver’s seat in the SEC East with a 5-1 record.
If you want to assure yourself of a winning conference record, then you must protect your home court. The Dawgs are now 2-2 at home in SEC games, and they can ill afford to drop another one inside of Stegeman Coliseum if they hope to play their way into this year’s NCAA tournament.
The Dawgs will have three days to rest and regroup before heading to Lexington to take on a vengeful Kentucky Wildcats team on Saturday.
The Cats are off this week, and they have yet to lose a game in Rupp Arena under John Calipari’s tutelage.
Needless to say, the uphill climb starts now for the Georgia Bulldogs.