Marcus Thornton, who has not quite been himself offensively since returning from a concussion that saw him miss two games, appeared to be on track for another lackluster performance Wednesday night in Oxford. The senior had just 2 points at the half as he struggled to finish around the basket against the Mississippi Rebels.
However, when his team needed him down the stretch, Thornton delivered. With 5 minutes remaining in the game, Ole Miss had cut the UGA lead, which had been 12 points only a few minutes earlier, to 56-53 following a pair of free throws from Jarvis Summers.
Georgia desperately needed a bucket on its next possession, and thankfully Thornton managed to secure an offensive rebound and a stick-back to give his team a two-possession advantage. Thornton finished the game with 18 points, but most impressive was the fact that he netted 12 of those points in the game’s final 5 minutes, carrying the Dawgs to an absolutely huge 76-72 SEC road victory.
Thornton also snagged a game-high 13 rebounds, giving him his 5th double-double of the season.
The Rebels’ defensive strategy in this one was to play heavy zone so as to force Georgia to beat them from the outside. Considering that the Dawgs had been frigid from beyond the arc over the previous four games, hitting just 17 of its past 71 three-point attempts (24%), one could hardly blame Andy Kennedy for his plan of action.
Unfortunately for Ole Miss, though, UGA was locked in from the perimeter on Wednesday evening, connecting on 11 of 23 from beyond the arc. Both Kenny Gaines and Neme Djurisic made 4 three’s apiece, rendering the Rebels’ zone ineffective. Gaines led all scorers with 22 points, and Djurisic chipped in 17 to go along with 6 rebounds. Gaines and Djurisic each hit a three-pointer in the second half that changed the score from a two-possession to a three-possession game, helping to keep the Rebels at bay.
Not only was Gaines on offensively, but the junior did a solid job of defending Stefan Moody, who entered last night’s contest as the leading scorer in the SEC through conference games at nearly 19 points a night. Now, Moody did finish this game with 19 points, but 7 of them came in the game’s final minute of play with Georgia holding a commanding lead. Before this game, Moody was near the top of the league in three-point percentage, making almost 40% of his attempts; yet, Gaines limited him to just 2 thee-pointers on 11 shots from the outside.
The win over Ole Miss puts UGA in a tie with LSU for 5th place in the conference with both teams sitting at 9-6, though the Tigers hold the tie-breaker over the Dawgs (since UGA let an 8-point lead escape in overtime in Baton Rouge). For Georgia to finish in the top four of the SEC standings and earn a bye all the way to Friday of the conference tournament, a multitude of things have to go UGA’s way. Unless Texas A&M just collapses and loses home games to both Auburn and Alabama, it seems unlikely that Georgia will be able to get past them in the standings. Ole Miss and LSU play each other this weekend in Louisiana, and the winner of that contest will have the inside track on one of the top spots.
If Georgia could win out, meaning victories over Missouri, Kentucky (grabbing my collar as I type) and Auburn, the Dawgs probably would find themselves playing on Friday in the conference tournament.
Right now, though, the Dawgs need to only focus on Missouri – a team that is dead-last in the SEC with a 2-13 record – so that they avoid any more home letdowns (see recent games against Auburn and South Carolina).