Georgia upends #21 Saint Mary’s to earn 3rd place in the Wooden Legacy

William “Turtle” Jackson willed in a pair of free throws to give his team an 83-79 lead with just 16 seconds remaining, and that buffer was enough to hold off Saint Mary’s as the Gaels failed to score quickly on the ensuing possession; center Jock Landale got a bucket, but only 1 second remained on the clock, and Georgia ended up knocking off the #21 team in the nation 83-81 in overtime for its first win against a ranked opponent in two years (#25 South Carolina).

The Bulldogs used the off day in Fullerton on Saturday to totally reinvent themselves offensively as Mark Fox’s team didn’t resemble anything of the squad that lost to San Diego State and just snuck by Cal State-Fullerton.  Georgia worked the ball inside to its bigs from the start and scored 16 of its 28 points in the paint prior to the break.  The Dawgs took shots earlier in possessions, and they only turned it over 9 times in 45 minutes of play, while dishing out 14 team assists.  Georgia shot over 50% from the floor and made more than 41% of its attempts from beyond the arc.  The Dawgs had five players finish in double-figures with Tyree Crump leading UGA with a career-high 17 points (Yante Maten finished with 16).

The Dawgs weren’t the only ones enjoying being on offense as the Gaels turned in a nice effort themselves in the game that defense forgot.  Saint Mary’s shot over 50% from the floor, but that’s to be expected when a team scores 58 of its points in the paint.  Georgia’s Derek Ogbeide was left on an island to deal with All-American Jock Landale, and that strategy did not pan out well for Ogbeide as Landale torched UGA for 33 points to go along with his 12 boards.  I kept expecting for Fox to switch his team into a zone so that he could give Ogbeide some help inside, but it never happened.  Landale enjoyed an array of one-on-one situations on the block in which he peppered the Georgia bigs with a combination of hook shots and up-and-under moves.

UGA also struggled to corral Saint Mary’s point guard, Emmet Naar, who got into the lane all afternoon en route to 21 points (12 of which came prior to the break).

Aside from the less than stellar defense, credit the Bulldogs for never backing down in a game against a potential NCAA Tournament team.  The Dawgs held a 35-34 advantage at the half; Georgia pushed its lead out to 58-50 with a little over 11 minutes left in regulation following a three-pointer by Tyree Crump, only to see that lead vanish down the stretch.  UGA actually trailed the Gaels 69-67 with 3:06 remaining, but a clutch jumper by Juwan Parker (14 points) and an incredibly strong take by Turtle Jackson (15 points) on the Dawgs’ final possession allowed UGA to push Saint Mary’s to overtime.

The biggest and most obvious takeaway from this tournament has to be the emergence of Turtle as a legitimate scoring threat and key part of the offense.  Jackson averaged 16 points over the past three games, and I can’t imagine the junior is excited to leave Fullerton after making 47% of his three-point attempts in the Titans’ gym.

Nicolas Claxton has also turned out to be a nice early-season surprise for the Dawgs as he is long and incredibly active off the bench.  Claxton played 20 minutes today, and though he wasn’t quite as productive (3 pts, 3 rebs, 2 blocks) as last game, he is constantly around the ball and really attacks the glass.  I realize that Mike Edwards was dealing with some food poison related issues this past weekend, but it’s hard to not see him yielding minutes to the freshman moving forward.

This win comes at the heels of a pair of underwhelming performances in the Wooden Legacy tournament, and it has to give this Georgia team a spark of confidence that it most desperately needs as Mark Fox’s team comes home to prepare for another challenge away from Athens when they play at Marquette as the undercard to next Saturday’s SEC Championship game.