Georgia’s first 60-something minutes of basketball in Maui definitely felt alarming. This team, which is headed by the top recruit in the nation, Anthony Edwards, was supposed to be clearly better than last year’s squad. Yet, after getting dismantled by Dayton a day before, the Dawgs looked primed for another whipping as Sparty held a 52-31 advantage at the break. Coach Izzo’s team at one point in the second half was up by 28 points as Georgia fans sat wondering how this UGA team somehow appeared even worse than the one from the contest against the Flyers.
Eventually, Anthony “Ant Man” Edwards snapped out of a 3 for 18 shooting funk that he’d been harboring on the island and remembered that he’s the projected #2 pick in the NBA draft. Edwards spent the second half terrorizing the Michigan State defense as he hit 7 triples and scored 33 of his 37 game-high points. The freshman was so locked in that his teammates seemed content to step aside and let him go off, which turned out to be a decent strategy as the Dawgs made a game out of what was at one point a lopsided blowout.
Twice Georgia managed to cut the Sparty advantage to just 4 points, and each time State responded with a clutch three-pointer to keep the Dawgs at bay. Even though UGA failed to make it a one-possession game after the intermission, Edwards’s Herculean effort that nearly brought his team back from the dead salvaged what could have been a really depressing holiday tournament.
It wasn’t all Edwards
While the Ant Man’s offense was certainly instrumental in this comeback, Tom Crean deserves a lot of credit for shifting his team into an extended 2-3 zone midway through the second half and keeping them in it. After shooting a blistering 56% from the floor prior to the break, Sparty knocked down a more pedestrian 44% following the intermission. The Georgia zone took MSU out of its offensive rhythm, and the Spartans stopped getting as many easy looks close to the basket as they did in the first half.
Transition defense must improve
The game against Dayton and the first half of the one with Sparty really exposed UGA’s transition defense, or lack thereof. The Dawgs struggled to hit shots in the first 20 minutes of today’s contest (31%), and State capitalized on the Georgia misses by pushing the ball and scoring off the primary and secondary break.
The second half saw a decline in the number of transition opportunities for Sparty, but that is more a tribute to Edwards and the UGA offense connecting on over 50% of its attempts from the floor. By making shots, Georgia gave itself time to get back and set up the aforementioned zone that frustrated State. However, Crean and his staff must coach these guys up so that they don’t let so many misses on the offensive end turn into quick points on the other side of the court.
The Dawgs will take on Division-II Chaminade in the ultimate consolation game on Wednesday. The Silversords call Hawaii home, which is most likely how they slipped into this field. Hopefully, Georgia doesn’t have too much trouble dispatching a less talented opponent in its final Maui Invitational appearance.
Crean’s team takes on NC Central next week in Athens before a difficult road test at Arizona State on December 14th. The game in Tempe will be Georgia’s next opportunity to measure itself against a quality opponent.