Georgia loses big lead, game and possibly NCAA at-large hopes

Georgia Bulldog coach Mark Fox opened up his post-game interview with the statement, “First off, I want to say that we played with a lot of effort tonight”.

The Dawgs (17-8; 6-5) yielded 23 offensive rebounds and 18 second-chance points to Vanderbilt on Wednesday night

To me, the words “good effort” and “23 offensive rebounds to opposing team” are not synonymous.  Georgia got out-hustled and out-manned in their own gym (once again), and Vanderbilt walked away with a 64-56 win.

And just clarify, this is not a good rebounding Vanderbilt team.  Coming into the game, Vandy was averaging just 34.5 rpg (8th in SEC) and they were tied with LSU for 10th place in the conference at 10.7 offensive boards a game.  On Wednesday night however, the Dawgs made the Dores look like a collection of Charles Barkley’s on the boards.

The first half was low-scoring, but the defensive intensity from both teams was very good.   Neither team shot the ball particularly well from the floor, but Georgia was slightly better and carried a 27-21 lead into the break.

Coming out of the intermission, it was as if two completely different offenses were on the floor, with Georgia and Vandy trading three-pointers at each end.  The Bulldogs were especially hot from beyond the arc, going 5 for 9 from the perimeter and extending their lead to 40-26 following a Sherrard Brantley three with 14:34 remaining.

The killer stretch of the game for the Dawgs unfortunately came in the final ten minutes.  Travis Leslie knocked down a three-pointer to put his team up 53-40 with just 9:47 left.  At this point, the game appeared to be Georgia’s to close out and win.

But the Dawgs did not close this game out, rather, they struggled mightily on offense.  In the last nine minutes, Georgia went 0-11 from the field and committed 3 turnovers.  When the Bulldogs looked to Trey Thompkins to lift them out of their slump, Thompkins responded with just one free throw – he went 0-2 from the floor with 2 turnovers.

Vanderbilt’s John Jenkins knocked down four three’s and scored 18 of his 21 points during the same time span.  When his team needed him, Jenkins stepped up and delivered and his Commodores won the game 64-56.

Between Jenkins and Thompkins, who looked more the SEC Player of the Year last night?

The Dawgs were totally dominated on the glass on Wednesday, losing the battle of the boards by a tally of 49-32.  Vandy’s Festus Ezeli and Jeffery Taylor grabbed 12 and 13, respectively – both were career highs.  The Dawgs did a better job of containing Ezeli on offense in this game, limiting him to just 10 points, but he made up for it on the defensive end, swatting 7 Bulldog shot attempts.

It’s hard to imagine that Georgia’s Jeremy Price and Vandy’s Ezeli are almost the same age, because one player (Ezeli) looks like a man on the court and the other looks – soft (Price).  In 18 minutes of play, Price pulled down just 1 rebound and committed 3 turnovers.

Georgia’s two NBA prospects – Thompkins and Leslie – combined for 4 for 19 from the floor and just 17 points.  Trey has not scored 20 or more points in a game since the Florida game on January 25th, and he’s averaging just 12.5 ppg in his past six games.  February is the time of the season when good teams and good players get stronger, yet Georgia’s star player has been struggling to create offense.

The only Bulldogs to score in double-figures were guards Dustin Ware and Gerald Robinson, who finished with 12 and 15 points, respectively.  These two combined for six three-pointers on the night, and more importantly, zero turnovers.

Georgia squandered its fourth consecutive nationally televised mid-week game on Wednesday, leaving them with a 2-8 record against the RPI Top 50.  Even worse, the Dawgs are now 1-5 in games played against SEC East opponents with winning conference records – Tennessee, Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Florida.

If Georgia hopes to finish with a winning league record themselves, then they must win another road game.  Unfortunately for the Dawgs, their final three away games are against teams (Tennessee, Florida, Alabama) with a combined record of 13-3 in SEC home games.

I don’t know exactly what part of the NCAA bubble Georgia was on prior to the loss to Vanderbilt, but I think it is safe to say that they are now on the wrong side of it.  In his write-up about the game, ESPN’s Mark Schlabach described Georgia’s loss to Vandy as “another blow to its fading NCAA at-large hopes” – it’s pretty hard to disagree with him.

The Bulldogs play Tennessee on Saturday in Knoxville, a place where Georgia has not won a basketball game in over a decade.