The Georgia Bulldogs (4-3) spent the majority of Tuesday night in the paint against the Kennesaw State Owls (1-7), where the Dawgs scored 57 of of their 84 points. Spoiler alert: Georgia won big.
However, Dawgs fans shouldn’t read too much into this game. To put it delicately, Kennesaw State is an awful team. The Owls, who were projected to finish 7th in the 9-team Atlantic Sun Conference, flew into Athens on the fumes of a 1-6 record. Kennesaw State does not play much defense, and they don’t seem particularly interested in defensive rebounding; also, the Owls cannot shoot the ball very well as they struggled to convert just 27% of their shots from the floor. I have no doubt that this KSU team has what it takes to fulfill that preseason prophecy and end up near the gutter of the ASUN.
Georgia began the game with a turkey hangover, but eventually the Dawgs pushed their advantage to 22-11 at the 7:46 media timeout following an 8-0 run that was capped off by a layup by Teshaun Hightower on the break. Georgia used multiple steals to start ramping up the tempo and extending the lead as they scored 16 first-half points off fast breaks. Once the Dawgs began to push the pace a bit, the floor opened up, particularly for Tyree Crump, who buried 3 triples prior to the break, and Georgia had a 39-20 lead at the intermission.
Georgia took advantage of 10 Kennesaw State turnovers by converting them into 14 points before the half. However, the Dawgs were careless with the basketball themselves as they committed 11 turnovers; Georgia was fortunate that the Owls couldn’t capitalize on those mistakes like Georgia State did in the Caymans. UGA’s sloppiness with the basketball, which has certainly been a predominant trend of this young season, is particularly disconcerting because the Dawgs are literally just handing the ball over. In both the Georgia State game and the first half against the Owls, the defense wasn’t doing anything special to affect UGA’s offense, so in theory, these turnovers shouldn’t really be happening at nearly this alarming of a rate.
But all’s well that ends well as the Dawgs were able to use the second half as more or less a scrimmage. Georgia cleaned up the ball security somewhat, committing just 5 turnovers after the intermission, and the Dawgs ended up with 20 team assists. The star of the evening was Nicolas Claxton, who notched a double-double by scoring 16 points and grabbing 15 boards. Claxton has been racking up stats against the weaker opponents on UGA’s pre-SEC slate thus far. However, at some point the Dawgs are going to need him to be more effective against stiffer competition, which is on the horizon as Georgia has upcoming games with Arizona State and Georgia Tech just around the corner (not to mention the start of SEC play).
Sophomore Rayshaun Hammonds contributed 14 points himself, which is just about at his season average of 14.5 ppg, and he did all of this damage in just 23 minutes of play. Hammonds just seems to be quietly going about his business and scoring in double-figures night in, night out. Honestly, I’d like to see him assert himself even more on offense as I feel confident that he is this team’s most skilled weapon on that end of the court.
It’s hard to say how well Georgia defended this Owl team since putting the ball in the basket has been quite the challenge for KSU so far this season (35% on FG). The Dawgs did limit Tyler Hooker, who came into tonight’s contest netting nearly 20 ppg, to just 11 points on a dismal 5 for 19 shooting performance. The Owls certainly made life easy on Georgia on the defensive side as KSU hit just 1 of the 15 shots they attempted from beyond the arc.
UGA doesn’t return to the court again until Monday when they take on a tough Texas Southern team that is far better than its 2-4 record implies. The Tigers are coached by former LSU skipper Johnny Jones, and they have multiple Power 5 transfers on their roster this year. Texas Southern has already beat both Baylor and #18 Oregon, and they’ve lost games to Iowa State, Gonzaga and San Diego State; they play Arizona State this Saturday. All of those contests were (and will be) on the road, so traveling to Athens will not do much to intimidate this road-tested squad.
Tom Crean probably won’t take much solace from tonight’s win, and he’d better have his team prepared for a better fight next Monday.