Role players carry UGA in win over Vandy

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Three consecutive missed free throws by Vanderbilt and a heroic 30-foot three-pointer at the buzzer by Tyree Crump enabled UGA to put together its first SEC win streak of the season (2). For Georgia (14-13, 4-10) fans, the ending to this one was the icing on the cake of what was a fairly entertaining watch, considering this contest featured two teams that entered this matchup with 4 conference wins between them.

Here are some thoughts on what transpired in Nashville last evening:

Georgia’s role players stepped up big

Sahvir Wheeler picked up his 4th foul with over 17 minutes of game time remaining. For the next 14 minutes, Tom Crean was forced to keep his floor general on the bench. With Wheeler out of the game, Vanderbilt turned its entire attention onto Anthony Edwards. Anytime Edwards would penetrate inside the arc, one or two Commodore defenders would shade over to essentially double- or triple-team him.

Edwards made a layup at the 11:56 mark to give UGA its first lead (52-51) since the early stages of the game, but the freshman phenom would go scoreless for the remainder of the contest before fouling out with 6 seconds remaining.

So how did Georgia, a team that has blown 4 double-digit leads in losses this season, overcome a 9-point deficit with less than 7 minutes remaining? As miraculous as Crump’s triple was maybe even more miraculous was the fact that the Dawgs were even in that position to begin with.

The key to UGA’s comeback lied in the fortitude of its role players:

  • Tye Fagan scored stickbacks on offensive rebounds on consecutive possessions and then made a jumper in the middle of the lane to make it 65-58, Vandy, with 7 minutes left. Even though the Dawgs were still trailing by 7 at this point, without Fagan’s efforts Georgia could have fallen behind to a point that was insurmountable, given the amount of time left.
  • Before Crump hit the game winner, he made a triple and another bucket (that seemed like a three that was never reviewed) that helped UGA clip further into the Vanderbilt lead. Crump’s three-pointer with under 6 remaining brought the Dawgs within 4 points.
  • When the game finally started to feel as though it was slipping away with Vandy up 7 with only 4:28 left, Jordan Harris banged down a pair of triples to make it a one-possession game with 2:30 on the clock.
  • Sahvir Wheeler, who I mentioned sat for most of the second half, reentered the game at the 3:10 mark and scored 6 points in the final two minutes, including two monster free throws to bring the Dawgs within a point with 6 seconds left. Wheeler’s ability to come off the bench after sitting for so long and instantly facilitate offense for his team highlighted just how important the freshman is to this team. Over the past 8 games, Wheeler is netting over 12 ppg, a remarkable progression on offense for a first year player going through his first SEC slate.

The Dawgs limited turnovers after the break

During the first half, Georgia’s offense resembled a game of “Hot Potato” at times as UGA played loose with the basketball. The Dawgs committed 10 of their 13 turnovers prior to the intermission, and Vandy turned all those mishaps into 20 points on the night.

The centerpiece of the Vanderbilt’s defensive scheme involved a little junk trap on the ball handler outside the arc. For whatever reason, this action had the Georgia perimeter players flustered for the initial 20 minutes of play.

At halftime however, Tom Crean must have reminded his crew that the Commodores were the second-worst scoring defense in the league (74.3) and there was no reason to fear any of Jerry Stackhouse’s defensive sets. The Dawgs finally just started dribbling around the traps, which led to a lot of open looks as the Dores defenders scrambled to cover open UGA players. Georgia only committing 3 turnovers in the second half was a catalyst to this team’s comeback.

What the heck happened to Georgia’s defense?

If I hadn’t watched UGA hold Auburn to just 55 points on Wednesday, I wouldn’t have believed it after seeing this team’s defensive effort in Nashville on Saturday.

Tom Crean tried to put his team in a man defense in the first half, but no one could stay in front of Saben Lee or Scotty Pippen, Jr., who Georgia made look a lot more like Sr. yesterday. Lee went off for 22 of his game-high 34 points before the break, and it was almost comical how easy it was for him to blow by UGA’s perimeter players en route to the rim.

Crean moved his team into a 2-3 zone in an attempt to provide more help on Vandy’s backcourt, but the Dawgs failed to communicate and that led to more backdoor cuts and uncontested layups and dunks for the Dores.

As much fun as the Dawgs are going to have rewatching Crump’s buzzer beater, they are going to cringe when they examine the possessions when they were allegedly on defense. Georgia permitted Vanderbilt to connect on over 57% from the floor and better than 46% from beyond the arc. In SEC play this season, the Dores have been one of the worst shooting teams in league games at under 43% from the field, and they’ve been making barely over 33% from the perimeter. The Dawgs should feel a renewed sense of confidence after winning both games this week, but they should also be a bit disgusted by their lackadaisical effort on the defensive side of the ball yesterday.

Up Next:

Georgia has a rematch with South Carolina in Columbia on Wednesday night. Considering how overpowering the Gamecocks looked compared to UGA in Athens during the first matchup of these two teams, this contest will be a great opportunity for Tom Crean’s team to measure up and see how much they’ve grown (or haven’t) over the past few weeks.

Postseason projection:

NIT bubble

Box Score: