About that last sequence
The Georgia Bulldogs (10-18, 1-14) played outstanding defense for 27 seconds on its final defensive possession on Wednesday night. Both Derek Ogbeide and Nic Claxton recorded blocks on opposing Auburn dribble-drivers. Even the final play, in which Chuma Okeke buried the dagger of a triple with 3 seconds left on the shot clock, was defended well by Jordan Harris – his only flaw was that he wasn’t 4″ taller to better obstruct the view of the 6’8″ Okeke. I’ve rewatched that play several times, and it really was just a matter of getting the ball into the hands of a 37% three-point shooter, who happened to knock down the biggest shot of his young career.
UGA’s last possession, though, left some doubt. Down by 3 with 24 ticks remaining, the Dawgs had two choices: drive the ball to the basket and try to get a quick 2 or a foul, or go for the tie. Georgia’s final offensive play looked shaky from the start as Turtle Jackson lost the ball briefly while bringing it up the court against Bryce Brown’s defensive pressure. With about 14 seconds left, Tom Crean had the opportunity to call a timeout and go for a reset, but he decided to let his guys play it out, and the result was an errant last-second chuck from Tyree Crump that fell way short of the basket. Final score: Auburn 78, UGA 75.
Defensive halftime adjustments
Auburn entered this contest averaging almost 12 triples a night in SEC play, and they were in the top four in the league in team scoring. The Tigers pace offensively for the first 20 minutes was relentless, which lead to numerous fast break points (9) and a plethora of open looks from the perimeter in both transition and the half court sets. By halftime, Auburn was right at their SEC average from beyond the arc at the half (40%), and they’d already knocked down 8 triples. In all honesty, Auburn has superior talent compared to Georgia (especially with Rayshaun Hammonds inactive), and the Tigers had no trouble getting any type of shot they wanted prior to the break, hence the 50 first-half points.
However, Tom Crean put his Georgia team in an extended 2-3 zone to start the second half in an effort to better guard the Tigers on the perimeter, and this strategy worked well as Auburn mustered just 7 points in the initial 6 minutes out of the intermission. With a little over 14 minutes remaining, the Dawgs had whittled the Tigers 10-point halftime lead down to 57-52. The Tigers settled for three-pointers that wouldn’t fall instead of attacking the rim, and they committed 5 turnovers during this same timespan.
This defensive look allowed Georgia to dictate the pace of the game in the second half, and the slower tempo did not suit Auburn. Bruce Pearl failed to make any significant offensive adjustments to counter the Dawgs’ zone, so Tom Crean kept his team in this look for nearly the entire second half. The result: the Tigers shot just 39% from the floor and made only 3 of 11 from beyond the arc. Jared Harper, who torched Georgia for 16 first-half points, only got 6 more following the break. It hasn’t been often this season that UGA’s defense has brought them back into games, but last evening this most certainly was the case.
UGA’s offense also improved over the course of this game. Auburn, a team that is 4th in the SEC at forcing its opponents into turnovers (15.2), had caused UGA to cough it up 10 times by the half, and those mishaps led to 15 points for the Tigers. In this contest’s final 20 minutes, though, UGA committed just 4 more turnovers that only cost them 5 points. Georgia’s stronger ball security prevented Auburn from being able to get quicker scores in transition, and as I said earlier, the Tigers did not seem comfortable playing a half court game.
Georgia’s backcourt improvement
The Achilles’ heel of this UGA team this season has been its guard play, but that narrative is slowly changing for the better, and it can be directly attributed to the improved play that Tom Crean is getting from both Jordan Harris and Turtle Jackson.
Harris’s trajectory continues to trend upward as he set a new career-high in scoring on Wednesday night by finishing with 18 points. The junior has now ended up in double-figures in 9 of the past 10 games, and he’s netting 11.5 points a night during that stretch. Harris’s confidence is cleary up, and he’s easily Georgia’s best dribble-driver.
Turtle Jackson, who scored all 13 of his points last night before the intermission, continues to provide Georgia with steady offense from the perimeter, and he’s doing a much better job of facilitating Crean’s offense. Jackson is hitting just shy of 40% of his attempts from beyond the arc in SEC play, and over the past 3 games, he’s dished out 15 assists to just 5 turnovers. With only handful of games remaining in his career, it appears that Turtle is growing into the point guard that this team has desperately needed all season.