Assessing the good and the bad from Georgia’s 68-67 loss to Mississippi State

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Did Jordan Harris graze Quinndary Weatherspoon with his body on the way down to the court, after blocking Q’s shot? Sure. Did Weatherspoon provide some solid acting that made the contact look far more egregious than it truly was? Absolutely. Should a referee be making this type of call to determine the outcome of the game on the home team’s court? Absolutely not.

What a gut-wrenching ending for the Georgia Bulldogs (10-16, 1-12), who have now dropped 11 SEC games in a row. Tyree Crump hits arguably the biggest triple of his career to tie the game at 67 apiece with 9 seconds left, only to see the previously mentioned mess with Weatherspoon and Harris transpire. Weatherspoon, who is an 83% free throw shooter, somehow misses the first attempt, but he eventually gets two more after the refs decide to assess a technical foul on UGA following the appearance of a stuffed promo giveaway that was tossed onto the court, presumably by a disgruntled Georgia fan. Quinndary doesn’t miss his next shot, and the Maroon Dogs sneak out of Athens with a much-needed 68-67 road win.

Since this truly was a game of two halves, let’s take a look at each:

First the bad

That would be the first half.

Tom Crean utilized a 2-3 zone that Georgia has been showing more recently to help control the tempo of this game early. The slower pace favored Georgia against Missy State, a team that entered this game as the 4th most prolific offense in conference play, where they have been scoring nearly 77 a night. Tom Crean had his defense shifting in and out, from zone to man, and State struggled to get comfortable and into an offensive rhythm; after more than 16 minutes of play, MSU had mustered just 20 points.

That’s right, Georgia owned a 24-20 lead with 3:57 left prior to the break before the Dawgs started doing Dawgs things and the wheels came off. UGA turned the ball over 4 times during this final stretch, and the Maroon Dogs coasted into the break on a 16-1 run, much of which was fueled by Weatherspoon, who scored 12 of his 16 first-half points in this segment of play.

Georgia’s offense in the first 20 minutes was plagued by too much dribbling and stagnancy, which led to some low quality shots, particularly from beyond the three-point line. The Dawgs had several possessions in which the ball changed hands quickly until it landed into the arms of an open player, but those sequences were few and far between. UGA shot just 29% from the floor and only 25% from beyond the arc prior to the intermission. Frankly, Georgia looked purposeless on offense to start this one. Missy State outscored Georgia 18-8 in the paint in the initial 20 minutes of play; Nic Claxton and Derek Ogbeide had just 2 apiece, which is unacceptable for a team as big as Georgia.

That second half, though

The Dawgs deserve a lot of credit for fighting their way back into this one. After a miserable ending to the first half, Georgia let Missy State open up the second with a quick 6-0 run that gave the Maroon Dogs a 17-point advantage.

UGA’s defense was the reason Tom Crean’s team had a chance at the end of this contest. Georgia settled into its 2-3 zone after a triple by Weatherspoon that made it 53-38 State with a little over 14 minutes remaining. MSU had no idea how to attack this look, and the Dawgs trimmed the Maroon Dog advantage to just 56-51 with 9:05 left after a thunderous dunk from Claxton. From this point, it was game on.

In addition to the stifling defense, Georgia’s offense made a complete 180 in the second. UGA shot over 55% from the floor and hit a stifling 5 of 9 three-point attempts; the Dawgs also outscored Missy State 16-8 in the paint after the intermission.

That second to last timeout by Crean

Should Tom Crean have called a timeout with his team down 65-64 and only 18 seconds left? Nic Claxton had just hit a pair of free throws, and MSU had no TOs remaining. Coach Crean’s decision gave Ben Howland the opportunity to draw up a play that involved two decoys diving down so that they could toss a long pass to Quinndary Weatherspoon, who was immediately fouled; the 83% free throw shooter canned them both.

If Crean doesn’t call that timeout, maybe the Maroon Dogs inbound the ball to a less effective free throw shooter. Who knows.

Final thoughts

This loss was devastating, especially considering how close Georgia came to snapping its seemingly never-ending SEC losing streak. However, despite the outcome, I’m once again heartened by the effort that this team continues to display, especially as of late.

Georgia had no business hanging around with a far more talented LSU team in last weekend’s loss. On Wednesday night, UGA could have easily thrown in the towel when they trailed by 15 points with less than 10 minutes remaining. Rather, the Dawgs chose to fight, and even though they came up a point short, it was an entertaining final 9+ minutes.

Box score:

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Dawgs earn a moral victory in 83-79 loss to LSU

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I realize that teams and their fan bases take little pride in moral victories in the long run. However, for THIS Georgia Bulldog (10-15, 1-11) team in THIS season, the Dawgs and their supporters should take some solace from last night’s effort against the #19 LSU Tigers.

UGA went toe-to-toe with an LSU team that had just knocked off #5 Kentucky at Rupp earlier in the week. With 29 seconds remaining in this contest, Georgia had an opportunity to tie the game. Instead, Nic Claxton elected to drive it at the rim, and his shot sailed over the basket, but the point is that the Dawgs were still in it with less than a minute remaining against a squad that is now tied with Tennessee for 1st place in the conference.

Tom Crean’s team’s most glaring weaknesses this year have been turnovers and inconsistent defense, yet on Saturday both of those shortcomings were relatively unnoticeable. The Dawgs committed only 11 turnovers, and even though those led to 17 Tiger points, for a Georgia team that’s been giving it away 15 times a night in conference play, this felt like a “win”.

Sure, LSU put up 83 points in its win over UGA, but guess what? They’ve been doing that to just about everybody. The Tigers are netting over 85 points a game in league play, so if you’re a “glass is half full” kind of person you could see this as a minor victory for the Georgia defense as the Dawgs held the Tigers under their SEC average in points.

LSU coach Will Wade seemingly has a never-ending supply of 6’10”-ish bigs he can run into the game, which is probably why his team leads the SEC in offensive boards per contest at over 14 a clip. The Tigers’ big men attacked the glass ferociously Saturday night, and it yielded 19 second-chance points for LSU, but Georgia had 18 points of that variety themselves.

This Tiger roster is far more talented than the current one that Tom Crean is working with. LSU has three guards in Tremont Waters, Skylar Mars and Ja’Vonte Smart that can all instantly create offense off the dribble; UGA doesn’t have anyone this year who can do that (aside from Jordan Harris, at times). Crean mixed in some 2-3 zone with his base man defense in an effort to slow down Waters, but the SEC’s best point guard got his 20 points. Smart, who is an absolute luxury for Wade to bring off the bench, torched the Dawgs for 19 points as he attacked the rim relentlessly. Luckily for Georgia, Mars, who nets over 13 ppg, was limited to just 6 on Saturday.

Despite the disparity in talent level between these two teams, Georgia hung with this Tiger team for nearly 40 minutes. UGA shot over 47% from the floor and had four players finish in double-figures in a game that featured 7 lead changes.

The Dawgs didn’t look like a team that was in the midst of a 9-game conference losing streak on Saturday. They didn’t back down in a game against a ranked opponent, when that certainly was an option. In the end, UGA came up 4 points short to the Tigers, but Georgia basketball fans have to take some satisfaction in the effort this Bulldog team showed in what has otherwise been a forgettable season.

Jordan Harris’s improvement

Harris’s 12 points on Saturday marked the 6th time in the last 7 games that the junior has finished in double-figures in the scoring department. Harris is also hauling in over 6 rebounds a contest during that same stretch. Jordan, who has to be the best athlete on the team, has emerged as a player that can create offense off the dribble from outside the paint, something this team was sorely lacking in the previous two-thirds of the season. If he continues to finish out this season strong, Harris has a realistic opportunity to be a regular double-digit contributor on next season’s team.

Rayshaun Hammonds foul tracker

With his 4 personal fouls on Saturday against LSU, Hammonds has now officially tied last season’s total of 81 PFs. The Dawgs have at least 7 games remaining (including the SEC tournament), so Hammonds has an extremely legitimate shot at committing over 100 PFs on the season, considering that he is averaging 3.7 a night in SEC play. The sophomore’s inability to stay on the court is perplexing because 1) he’s not an overly physical player and 2) he MUST realize his importance to this team. Hammonds netted 13 points against the Tigers yesterday, but he only logged 25 minutes of game time.

Box Score:

Offensive woes sink Georgia in loss to Texas A&M

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Last weekend Tom Crean said publicly that he basically made some mistakes in keeping some of the players on this Georgia Bulldog (10-14, 1-10) roster. I know he apologized, but that doesn’t erase the fact that the words were said and those thoughts existed (and maybe still do) in his mind.

Either way, I expected the Dawgs to come out with a little more fire than they showed on Tuesday night in College Station. I guess I presumed that some, or all, of those UGA players might want to prove Crean wrong.

Instead, Georgia mustered up just 56 points in the loss of a game that they could have stolen on the road against a Texas A&M (10-13, 3-8) team that has been decimated by injuries this season.

The Aggies played zone defense against UGA the entire game. This strategy by Coach Billy Kennedy seemed appropriate considering Georgia entered this contest last in the SEC in both field goal percentage (39.8%) and three-point percentage (30%) in league games.

There are basically two ways teams can exploit a zone: they can shoot the defense out of it or drive the ball to the soft spots to draw defenders and create opportunities. Georgia failed to employ either of those aforementioned tactics. The Dawgs shot an abysmal 3 for 23 from beyond the arc. Tyree Crump made only 2 of his 11 three-point attempts, with numerous of those shots coming from well beyond the line. UGA got outscored in the paint 36-28 in a game in which they had a distinct size advantage inside. Derek Ogbeide, who’s been this team’s best back-to-the basket offensive player, took only 4 shots; Rayshaun Hammonds, the team’s leading scorer, had just 3 attempts from the floor himself, and he finished with only 5 points and 3 turnovers.

The only Georgia player who held their own in this contest was Nic Claxton, who notched a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds.

Georgia definitely played at a slower pace on Tuesday than we have seen in a while, and my guess is that was intentional on Crean’s part in an effort to limit turnovers, which it did as the Dawgs only coughed the ball up 12 times against the Aggies. However, Georgia’s execution on offense was an exhibition in futility, and honestly, it was painful to watch.

The Dawgs played a lot of zone defense themselves against A&M, particularly 2-3, which was most likely done in an attempt to take some pressure of the Georgia guards defensively. This look befuddled the Aggies for early on, but eventually A&M got comfortable offensively and buried 4 triples during the final stretch of the first half as they finished 45% from the field heading into the locker room with a 34-21 advantage.

The Aggies offensive rhythm continued to improve as the game progressed. Kennedy’s team pounded the ball inside to Christian Mekowulu, who responded with 15 points and 15 boards. Sophomore point guard T.J. Starks had his way with UGA for much of the night as he ended up with 19 points and 4 steals.

The dagger in this one came during a 7-0 Aggie run in the initial segment of the second half when Jay Jay Chandler sunk a triple to make it 47-29 A&M with a little over 14 minutes left in the game. Any Georgia fan who changed the channel at this point undoubtedly had a more pleasant Tuesday evening than the ones who stuck around to the end of this contest.

Rayshaun Hammonds foul tracker

The sophomore only committed 1 personal foul in College Station. He still has 77 on the year, but maybe he won’t completely destroy last year’s total of 81 PFs. At the half of this game, Hammonds had 0 points and 3 turnovers. As a stretch big, Hammonds should be the perfect fit for a system like Crean’s, yet he continues to play below expectations.

Box score:

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After hot start, UGA fizzles in 80-64 home loss to Ole Miss

I’m almost at the point where I feel like I could just hit copy/paste from the last game post, and it would pretty much cover everything that we witnessed in the latest contest. The Georgia Bulldogs (10-13, 1-9) got manhandled by Mississippi 80-64 on Saturday in Athens, and the usual culprits – ball security and poor defense – were responsible again for UGA’s demise.

The best part of this game by far was the initial 5 minutes of play in which UGA opened up an 18-8 lead while making 6 of their first 8 shots. Rayshaun Hammonds played particularly well during this stretch as he knocked down a pair of triples and scored a total of 8 points.

The next 14 minutes of play Tom Crean witnessed the wheels come off in the form of 13 turnovers by his squad. One especially sloppy span of offense occurred during consecutive possessions by Teshaun Hightower:

  1. Hightower brought the ball across half court. Amanze Ngumezi came to the perimeter to set a high ball screen, but Hightower threw him a lob pass that soared into an Ole Miss defender’s hands.
  2. Next possession, Hightower gave fans a repeat of play #1.
  3. Next possession, Hightower dribble the ball directly to the wing and attempted to hand off the basketball to a UGA guard, but instead the ball was fumbled out of bounds.

The Dawgs are now turning the ball over on 22% of their possessions, which makes them 327 in the nation in that category.

Breein Tyree, who led all scorers with 31 points, put the Rebels up 25-22 when he hit a three-pointer with a little less than 10 minutes left in the first half, which capped off a 17-4 Ole Miss run. The Georgia offense during this abysmal 14-minute stretch managed just 10 points, and by the time Tyree Crump hit a triple with 1:36 left before the break, the Dawgs were trailing 41-31.

Georgia committed an eye-opening 16 first half turnovers (20 overall), which led to 16 points for Mississippi prior to the intermission. Georgia actually shot nearly 44% from the floor and matched the Rebels’ 7 three-pointers, but the 11 extra possessions were too much to overcome, and they resulted in a 45-33 halftime lead for the Rebels.

The Georgia defense, which is ranked last in the SEC in points allowed, continued to struggle with transition defense and weak side help rotations. The Dawgs’ defenders looked lost when the Rebels pushed the pace, which resulted in a plethora of open looks from beyond the arc; Ole Miss ended up with 9 three-pointers on the afternoon, one more than their SEC average. UGA continues to make teams look really good from the perimeter.

Georgia defenders, Jordan Harris aside, still refuse to provide help defense when opponents attack the rim. Much like in previous games this season, this contest featured multiple plays in which an Ole Miss guard drove the ball from outside the arc all the way to the rim, uncontested. The Rebels outscored Georgia in the paint 28-18, and a big reason for that was that the Dawgs make it super easy for opponents to attack the basket.

Maybe the most disappointing of all of UGA’s defensive shortcomings this afternoon was the Dawgs’ inability to protect the defensive glass. Georgia yielded 13 offensive rebounds to Mississippi, and the Rebels converted those into 21 second chance points (UGA had just 5).

Tom Crean’s postgame comment

The Athletic’s Seth Emerson provided this nugget that Crean gave to reporters after the game via Emerson’s Twitter feed:

Nothing like throwing your players under the bus in the midst of an 8-game SEC losing streak. This statement by Crean is confounding in so many ways. First, he took over the team in the spring; save a few super late signees, that probably weren’t D1 material, who did he envision might have been available to sign? Did he not watch film of this team last year and think to himself, “Ok, without Yante Maten, this group isn’t incredibly talented”? His expectations for this season were obviously not in line with talent level on his roster. Finally, how does he see this season finishing out after he makes such a negative public statement about the players on his roster?

Rayshaun Hammonds personal foul tracker

Hammonds fouled out of today’s game, and he now has 76 PFs on the season. The sophomore should easily surpass last season’s total of 81, quite possibly by next weekend. After netting 8 quick points in the first 5 minutes of this game, Hammonds scored just 2 more the rest of the way. The Dawgs’ leading scorer seems unaware of his importance to this team as he continues to commit fouls at a torrid pace.

Preseason predictions

Prior to the start of the season, Ole Miss was projected to finish last in the conference standings, just a slot behind Georgia. One of these teams has wildly exceeded expectations and is currently in position to make the NCAA tournament, and the other is UGA.

Box score:

UGA defense drops the ball in 89-74 defeat in Tuscaloosa

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This Georgia team’s biggest issue for the season has been turnovers, which were still a problem on Wednesday as the Dawgs coughed the ball up 13 times to Alabama, and the Crimson Tide managed to turn those mishaps into 22 points.

However, as of late, UGA’s defense has been its most limiting factor. They say that defense travels, but obviously, the Georgia D didn’t make this trip. Several days removed from allowing the South Carolina Gamecocks – one of the poorer shooting teams in the conference – to torch them from the perimeter with an 11 for 16 performance, the Dawgs once again struggled to defend the three-point line. The Tide connected on nearly 39% from beyond the arc, and none of those makes was more deadly than the 2 by Tevin Mack that allowed Bama to build up a double-digit lead (53-42) in just a little over 3 minutes into the second half.

The Dawgs are now last in the conference in scoring defense (80 ppg) in SEC play, and they are 3rd from the bottom in three-point percentage defense. Bama scoring 89 points means that Georgia has now yielded 80+ points to 3 of its last 4 conference opponents. Yikes!

But it’s not just the perimeter where UGA’s defense is failing. Alabama got WAY too many easy baskets around the rim because Georgia’s help defense continues to remain either too slow or disinterested. How many times did a Bama guard beat one of Georgia’s backcourt defenders and go all the way to the rim for a lay up? I lost count. The Tide scored 28 of its 41 first-half points in the paint, and they ended up with 48 points inside on the game. I’m not sure if Nicolas Claxton is playing more tentative to avoid getting in foul trouble, but he was certainly guilty of not rotating to help on multiple defensive possessions. Avery Johnson’s team made nearly 57% of its field goal attempts Wednesday, and that’s completely unacceptable. Winning on the road is almost impossible when the other team is scoring on 3 of every 5 possessions.

The first half of this game was fun, though, right? The pace was up tempo as the Dawgs and Tide played a back-and-forth 20 minutes in which both teams shot above 48% from the floor.

Alabama, however, proved that it could play defense when it needed to in the second half, when Georgia could not. The Tide limited UGA to just 34% from the floor in the second 20 minutes of play, and Johnson’s team forced the Dawgs into 7 more turnovers. UGA doesn’t have the offensive firepower this season to try to outscore teams for 40 minutes, save the Texas game, so Georgia better figure some things out defensively or the Dawgs could be stuck on 1 SEC win for quite a while.

Shout-out to…

Derek Ogbeide, despite playing through what has to be his most trying season at Georgia, continues to improve as the season progresses. Against the Tide, the senior led all UGA scorers with 17 points, marking his 4th consecutive SEC game in double-figures scoring.

Rayshaun Hammonds foul count

Last season, Hammonds tallied 81 personal fouls on the year. After Wednesday’s 4-foul performance, the sophomore now has 71 PFs this season, and he should have no trouble eclipsing last year’s total with 9 conference games remaining in the regular season. Hammonds had 13 points last night, but he played just 21 minutes. He’s this team’s best scoring option, yet Hammonds cannot manage to stay on the floor, which is definitely one of this year’s mysteries. I imagine this situation must be incredibly frustrating for Crean.

Box score:

Poor defense and a weird last possession result in another UGA loss

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For the final 4 minutes of this game, Georgia (10-11, 1-7) played solid base defense against the South Carolina Gamecocks. USC’s last 5 possessions before UGA was forced to foul looked like this: turnover, three-pointer, turnover, turnover and missed shot. That’s some impressive defense at crunch time, and for that the Dawgs deserve a lot of credit. Had Georgia secured the missed jumper by Hassani Gravett with less than a minute left and the Gamecocks leading 83-80, UGA would have had chance to tie the game. The Georgia defense put this team in a position to win at the end of this contest.

The problem, however, was that the Dawgs looked perplexed defensively for the previous 36 minutes. Defensive rotations were too slow and sometimes nonexistent. How else do you explain allowing the SEC’s 11th best three-point shooting team (32%) to go 11 for 16 from the perimeter? Carolina buried nearly double the number of triples they had been averaging a night in league play, and on the road no less. In the first half, USC’s guards hit 3 three-pointers from the corner baseline spot that were painfully uncontested.

In his post game, Tom Crean had the following to say regarding the perimeter defense:

“We are improving. But we have got to stop hurting ourselves with not getting our hands up, with not communicating the switch.”

I wholeheartedly agree. However, Crean might want to be a little more liberal with his timeouts in the future because he could use them to remind his players of all of these things he discussed in his press conference. South Carolina is a terrible three-point shooting team, but even average shooters can be made to appear better than they are when their looks to the basket are basically unimpeded. The Dawgs may be handicapped offensively due to a dearth of talent in the ball handling department, but all of these players should be capable of playing sound defense for 40 minutes.

To be fair, there wasn’t much defense being played by either team on Saturday, which should have been expected since the Gamecocks entered this contest with the worst team scoring defense (79.3) in SEC play and Georgia the second-worst (77.9).

That last possession by Georgia was a real head-scratcher. Considering that Crean removed his team’s best perimeter shooter, Tyree Crump, in favor of Derek Ogbeide, I assumed that the Dawgs were going to attack the basket as they trailed 85-80 with just 33 ticks remaining. Instead, both Turtle Jackson and Nicolas Claxton tossed up clunkers from the beyond the arc, and the Gamecocks corralled the 4th miss to earn another trip to the free throw line. Game over. Carolina wins 86-80.

A special shout out goes to the Georgia bench for performing admirably this afternoon. The Dawgs reserves outscored the Carolina bench 36-22, and they played a key role in helping UGA close an early double-digit deficit. Derek Ogbeide led all Georgia scorers with 16 points to go along with 7 rebounds, and today’s game marked his third straight SEC contest in which he has finished in double-figures in scoring.

Jordan Harris, who missed the last two games with concussion symptoms, gave Crean his best minutes of the season as he notched 11 points off the bench. Harris played with a lot of intensity, and his athleticism is hard to miss – he’s always around the ball as he secured 6 boards and forced 4 steals.

Looking ahead, it’s hard not to speculate on just how many conference games this team can win. The Dawgs have multiple ranked opponents still scheduled to travel to Athens, and all of those contests will be challenging for this team. At this point, it’s hard to envision this bunch winning an SEC road game (although I would LOVE to be proven wrong).

Georgia’s worst conference performances in the past 20 years were Dennis Felton’s final season, in which that team won 3 SEC games, and his second year in Athens when the Dawgs managed just 2 league victories during the regular season. My best estimation, and again, I pray that I am incorrect, is that this team will not eclipse 3 conference wins this year.

Box score: