After three cakewalks to begin the 2019-2020 slate, Tom Crean’s team got its first test of the season as the Georgia Bulldogs (4-0) took on their in-state rival, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (2-1). This Georgia Tech team surprised a lot of people in its season opener when they went into Raleigh and got an 82-81 win over N.C. State, a team the media projected to be 5th in the ACC.
The game started out a little rocky as both teams were no doubt feeling some pregame jitters as it took almost 3 minutes before Michael Devoe, who netted 34 points, broke the scoring drought with a triple. The Dawgs didn’t get on the board until Rayshaun Hammonds knocked down a jumper after nearly 5 minutes had eclipsed.
Georgia had trouble dealing with Tech’s size inside, especially with the presence of 6’10” senior James Banks, who ended up with 6 blocks on the night. UGA tried to force the issue a little too much earlier on in the paint via their bigs; Georgia is going to face the challenge of dealing with bigger opposing frontcourts all season, but they seem to get to the rim better off of cuts from the wing position, especially when those cutters are Hammonds and Anthony Edwards.
Shockingly, the Dawgs managed to surpass 80 points despite the slow start.
Georgia’s offense COULD become dangerous
Even with a double-digit lead late the in the game, the Georgia offense remained aggressive in attacking the rim. Gone are the Mark Fox days of yore of running shot clock down the stretch and hoping to hold onto leads. Tom Crean’s team is playing fast no matter the time or situation, as evidenced by the high-flying alley-oop that Toumani Camara caught from Sahvir Wheeler with less than 3 minutes remaining in the game.
Rayshaun Hammonds was obviously the star of the night offensively has he played his best game of his career (and certainly his best first half) in which he scored 26 points to go with 9 boards. The junior from Atlanta was unconscious through the initial 20 minutes of this contest as he poured in 19 points on an array of triples and layups.
Freshman Anthony Edwards struggled in the first half as he failed to convert a field goal and mustered just 2 points. Josh Pastner had his team moving in and out of zone defenses, but no matter the look, whenever Edwards touched the ball he immediately had a second Tech defender shading over near him. Edwards tried to press things offensively and didn’t find much success on that side of the ball prior to the intermission.
However, when Hammonds headed to the bench with 26 points and his 4th foul with 10:16 left in the game and the Dawgs up 56-48, Edwards took over and scored 9 points during the nearly 5 minute stretch that Hammonds sat on the bench. He ended up with 16 second half points, and he did a much better job of waiting until he had the matchup he wanted before attacking off the dribble; Edwards also moved great without the ball as he scored multiple baskets off of backdoor cuts to the rim. Even though he was an all-world recruit, it’s still hard to believe that this was just his 4th collegiate game because he looks so comfortable on the court.
Sahvir Wheeler and Tyree Crump came up huge tonight in supporting roles on offense. Wheeler, who is just a treat to watch, continues to create offense off of penetration for both himself and his teammates as he finished the night with 5 assists. Crump played within himself and did not force his shots from the perimeter as he notched 11 points, which included some timely three-pointers to keep the Jackets at bay in the second half.
This Georgia team has not had this many potential scoring options on offense since the 2015 NCAA Tournament team that included Kenny Gaines, Charles Mann, Marcus Thornton, J.J. Frazier, Neme Djurisic and Yante Maten.
Georgia’s offense tonight was so much more effective from the left side of the court, which I attribute to Hammonds performance. He doesn’t really have a right hand, so to speak, so on nights like tonight when Hammonds has it cooking it makes sense that UGA would keep the ball on that side where he is more comfortable operating.
The UGA defense looked better this evening than it has this season
Despite allowing Devoe to reach 34 points, overall, the Georgia defense played fairly well. The Dawgs were intense for most of the game as they jumped into passing lanes and managed to notch 8 steals while forcing the Jackets into 15 turnovers. Crean’s team also outrebounded Tech by a count of 42-40, which is impressive considering the Jackets had a height advantage inside.
Tom Crean came to Georgia with the reputation of putting together long defenses that pressured teams to the half court line and created a lot of deflections and steals. That’s certainly how his most successful Indiana teams played. Tonight, UGA had that look on defense, and it’s exactly how this Georgia team will need to play every night since they will be the smaller team more often than not.
This evening’s victory of the Yellow Jackets marks the 5th in a row for Georgia, and it give the Dawgs a solid dose of momentum as they prepare to head to Maui next week for a challenging tournament that begins with a tough opener against an undefeated Dayton team. The winner will most likely face Michigan State in the second round.