Just moments before the kickoff of yesterday’s SEC Championship game, Rayshaun Hammonds grabbed a rebound off a miss by Marquette’s Markus Howard, and then he calmly sunk a pair of free throws to secure a quality road win (73-66) for the Bulldogs in their victory over the Marquette Golden Eagles (5-3).
I should probably mentioned that William “Turtle” Jackson made 4 straight from the charity stripe prior to the 2 by Hammonds, and Turtle’s were incredibly important because Howard did connect on a three with 33 ticks left to make it a one-possession game at 69-66, Georgia.
The Dawgs won the game, in my opinion, during the following two stretches:
- After building up a comfortable 23-15 lead with just over 6 minutes left in the half, Georgia appeared to have taken control of the game and poised to go into the locker room with a sizable advantage. Marquette started to get hot, though, and went on a 13-4 run that included three-pointers from Howard and Andrew Rowsey, whose shot put the Eagles up 28-27 with 1:03 left before the break. Rowsey hit another triple to give Marquette a 31-28 advantage with 19 seconds remaining. The Dawgs, however, immediately seized the momentum back on the following possession when Teshaun Hightower awkwardly dumped the ball off to Nicolas Claxton who quickly buried a three-pointer from the top of the key as time expired to lock the game up at 31 apiece heading into the intermission.
- Late in the second half, Georgia took a commanding 43-36 lead following the most powerful dunk that Mike Edwards has most likely ever done. The Dawgs looked as though they had taken control of the game, but once again, Marquette responded, this time with a 12-4 run that was capped off by another Rowsey three that put his team up 48-47 with under 10 minutes remaining. But UGA wouldn’t wither, and Yante Maten, who led his team with 13 points, hit an enormous jumper from the corner to put the Dawgs up 56-55 with 5:03 left. Hammonds scored on the ensuing possession on a dish from Derek Ogbeide, and a minute later Hightower hit a pair of free throws, and again UGA had wrestled back the momentum as they were now up 60-55 with 3:09 remaining.
Another big factor in this UGA victory was the Dawgs’ defensive intensity, which obviously must have been a point of emphasis from the coaching staff following Georgia’s win against Saint Mary’s, a game that featured zero defense. The Dawgs held Marquette to just 35% from the floor and limited the Golden Eagles, who entered the game hitting over 38% of their 3PT attempts, to 33% from beyond the arc. The Georgia guards frustrated the Big East’s leading scorer, Andrew Rowsey, into a 4 for 15 shooting effort, which led to 15 points, well below his season average (23.7ppg).
The only chink the Bulldogs defensive armor was that they couldn’t managed to contain Markus Howard, who spent half of this contest on the bench dealing with foul trouble. Howard picked up two quick fouls to start the game and sat for the next 13 minutes before entering with a little over 6 minutes remaining in the half, only to pick his 3rd foul. The effect: Howard had to sit for the first 7 minutes of the second half. When Howard was in the game, though, he was highly productive as he scored a game-high 29 points in just 20 minutes of play. The most disconcerting thing about Howard’s performance for Georgia had to be how easily he got the ball into the lane and to the rim, similarly to Saint Mary’s point guard, Emmett Naar, who dropped 21 points on the Dawgs in Fullerton, California. So far this season, UGA’s backcourt has struggled to keep better point guards from punishing them in the lane, and that could be a problem once the Dawgs hit conference play because there are a number of good PGs in the SEC.
Other than Maten, the only other UGA player to finish in double-digits was Turtle, who scored 11 points to go along with 7 assists. Tyree Crump ended up with 9 points on a 3 for 6 shooting effort from beyond the arc, and he may have wound up in double-figures, but he only played 10 minutes. At some point Fox may have to consider inserting Crump into the starting five as he and Turtle are by far the Dawgs’ most dangerous three-point threats. Their presence on the court gives Maten, who is going to be double-teamed all season it appears, viable outlets on the perimeter.
This game wasn’t a thing of beauty by any means; neither team had a field goal for almost 4 minutes to begin the second half. But Mark Fox’s team once again got it done away from Athens against a team that may be dancing in March. After a series of meaningless cupcake games at home to start the season, Georgia is slowly putting together a nice little NCAA Tournament resume.