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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