The Georgia Bulldogs (7-3) double-overtime win over the SMU Mustangs (8-2) on Friday night in Athens may have only been a Quadrant III win in the eyes of the NCAA, but in some ways it was miraculous that UGA managed to come away with a victory at all.
At the end of regulation, the Dawgs had to stop the Mustangs not once, not twice, but thrice before forcing the game into overtime thanks to a jump ball and a lackadaisical turnover on an inbounds play. Not to pile on the Ponies too much, but they also kicked away a 5 point lead with 30 seconds remaining in the first overtime. SMU even had a shot to take the lead in the last 40 seconds of the second overtime only to come up short.
The Ponies’ inability to finish on second chances at the end of this one was sort of a microcosm of the night as they got outscored 22-19 by UGA on second chance points despite bringing down an astounding 26 offensive boards.
The moment, or moments, were never to big for freshman Sahvir Wheeler, who scored both the tying basket in the first OT and the go-ahead bucket in the second one to win the game for Georgia. Anthony Edwards is obviously the most special talent on this team, but one could come up with a decent argument that Wheeler is equally as important. Since the departure of J.J. Frazier, Georgia has been desperate for a point guard that can attack opposing defenses off the dribble and get the ball into the paint, and it appears that Wheeler is more than capable of fulfilling that role for Tom Crean’s team (9 points, 8 assists).
The simplicity of Georgia’s offense
Crean’s offense is definitely a players’ offensive that permits a lot of creativity from the perimeter. It’s obvious why he is recruiting at a much higher level than Mark Fox: this offense is built to let players freestyle and take advantage of open opportunities. Rayshaun Hammonds has the freedom to screen high and pop for Wheeler or any of the other UGA guards. When the ball moves from side to side, players instinctively reposition themselves into the soft spots of the defense or cut towards the basket. After shooting an abysmal 2 for 24 from beyond the arc in Tempe last weekend, the Dawgs rebounded with a 37.5% effort at home in Athens, which was a much needed improvement. Crean’s offense is far more aesthetically appealing when the shots are falling from the perimeter.
Even when the Ant Man struggles, as he did last night (6 of 17 from the floor for 16 points), he can still facilitate offense in Crean’s system because his teammates are generally on the move. SMU regularly had a second defender shading over towards Edwards when he possessed the ball, but the freshman was savvy enough to not force too many shots and make smart passes. Edwards will have off nights like last evening, but he still stays active on both sides of the court (his block at the end of regulation to prevent an SMU layup was crucial).
Rayshaun Hammonds had arguably his best game of the young season. Crean has him positioned on the wing and at the top of the key, which gives the junior the option to either shoot a triple or take his defender off the dribble, which is typically advantageous for Hammonds as he’s going to usually draw the other team’s tallest defender. Hammonds notched a double-double with 21 points and 11 boards, and he buried a huge three-pointer from the wing with 2:29 left in the second overtime to put the Dawgs up 85-82. The key to all of this production is that Hammonds was able to log 37 minutes due to the fact that he committed only 3 personal fouls. Suffice to say, with the loss of Amanze Ngumezi to the transfer portal, Hammonds needs to figure out a way to stay out of foul trouble for the rest of the season.
Still work to be done on the defensive end
Tom Crean’s defensive philosophy is predicated on his players being able to create as many deflections as possible. Anthony Edwards has been challenged by his coach to ramp up his deflections per game (7.5) to the likes of former Hoosier Victor Oladipo (12+).
Georgia’s defense has so much potential to wreak havoc with how long and athletic they are. On the perimeter, UGA pestered the SMU offense and forced the Mustangs into a 25% shooting effort from the perimeter. However, the Dawgs have some serious communication issues that must be ironed out because they surrendered 3 alley-oop dunks, which is kind of unacceptable, and too often SMU was able to move the ball into the middle of the zone, which led to the whole thing falling apart and 50 points in the paint for the Ponies. The Dawgs are going to be undersized in every conference game they play this season, so talking will be critical if they have hopes of tightening up their defensive rotations.
Welcome back Jordan Harris
Jordan Harris better stay on Crean’s good side for the rest of the season because he’s too valuable to this team to not be on the court for 20-something minutes a night. Harris made his presence felt immediately upon entering the game when he scored on a sweet spin move that allowed him to finish all alone on the left side of the rim. The senior also put an exclamation point on the first half when he snagged a miss from Hammonds mid air and flushed it before time expired. In a productive 17 minutes, Harris scored 9 points, grabbed 4 boards and logged a steal. Considering this was his first time on the court this season, I’d say he has to be happy with this output. I can’t wait for both him and Wheeler to join the starting lineup on a regular basis, especially with the athleticism that Harris brings to the defensive side of the ball.
Georgia hosts Georgia Southern on Monday night in Athens.