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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UGA basketball season opener just a month away

With the start to the 2015-2016 college basketball season just a little over a month away, Georgia basketball fans – myself included – have to be wondering just what can be expected from this year’s team.  In his initial Bracketology of the season, Andy Katz pegged UGA as a candidate for the 11-seed play-in game where he had them facing Rhode Island. But really, how much stock can be put into an NCAA Tournament prediction that was made more than three months before the start of the season?

For the past couple of years, Georgia has enjoyed the stability of an established frontcourt to pair with its strong backcourt trio of Mann, Gaines and Frazier (if those three don’t make it in basketball they have a great potential law firm name). However, the departures of Marcus Thornton and Nemanja Djurisic have left a huge hole in the Dawgs’ post, which may be to big for just Yante Maten to fill alone.  Much of UGA’s success (or lack there of) this year will ride on how much Coach Mark Fox gets from incoming freshmen Derek Ogbeide, E’Torrion Wilridge and Michael Edwards.  All three of these guys look fabulous on their Youtube highlight reels, but the stakes get a little higher when freshmen hit the collegiate courts and find themselves working against competitors that are the same size as or bigger than themselves.

If Georgia hopes to return to the NCAA tournament again, which it hasn’t done consecutively in over a decade (2001, 2002), Coach Fox is going to need at least one of his incoming frosh to be a major contributor.  The Dawgs have plenty of returning role players: Kenny Paul Geno, Houston Kessler and Juwan Parker; but none of those three has shown any hints of breaking out into anything more than they already are. UGA’s backcourt will be as solid as ever with Charles Mann, Kenny Gaines and J.J. Frazier all returning, and Maten should be better than last year – it’s that last spot on the court that’s going to be a significant question mark for Fox, and how well he can fill that position will certainly be a testament to his coaching prowess.

Recently, Athlon Sports ranked the SEC basketball coaches, pitting Fox as the 8th best skipper in the league, right behind South Carolina’s Frank Martin.  Considering that Fox’s Dawgs have finished 3rd in the conference the past two seasons, that ranking seems a little inaccurate, especially the Frank Martin insult.  But with the additions of Ben Howland (Missy State), Rick Barnes (Tennessee) and Avery Johnson (Alabama) to go along with last year’s newbie – Bruce Pearl (Auburn) – the SEC is starting to take a more formidable shape as a basketball conference (all of the aforementioned coaches were ranked ahead of Fox, except for Johnson).  The competition in the SEC will undoubtedly become stiffer, and finishing in the top four of the standings should be much more challenging moving forward.

If UGA wants to fulfill Mr. Katz’s August prophecy, then CMF is going to need to coach’em up.

Dawgs top Rebels for third-straight SEC win

Georgia’s inability to hit free throws at the end of the game left the door open for Ole Miss in this one, giving the Rebels a chance to tie, down 63-60, with only 54 seconds left on the clock.  However, Charles Mann, who was guilty of missing the front end of two one-and-one’s late, made amends by drawing a heady charge on Mississippi guard Jarvis Summers.

The Dawgs went on to make their next 6 attempts from the line, and UGA came away with the 69-62 conference win – their third in a row.

Georgia began the game playing rather sloppy, possibly still feeling the effects of a post-Florida win hangover.  The Dawgs looked nothing like the team that hit its first 7 shots against the Gators in opening minutes of this contest.  In tonight’s game, UGA missed all 7 of its three-point tries before the break. Heading into the locker room, Georgia was only connecting on 33% of its shots from the floor as a team.  Before a Cameron Forte layup that brought his team within 3 points with 8:15 left before intermission, Coach Mark Fox’s team had been mired in a nearly 9-minute slump in which they failed to convert a field goal.

Contributing to Georgia’s first half struggles was a general lack of effort on the glass. Georgia entered game with the best defensive rebounding percentage in the conference, yielding just 11 offensive rebounds a night to opponents.  However, Ole Miss nabbed 7 offensive boards in the first half, giving them extra opportunities to score.

Marcus Thornton, who led the Dawgs in scoring, carried his team in the first half, scoring 11 of his 16 points.

However, Mark Fox must have given one heck of a halftime speech because his team came out of the break playing with some serious fire.  UGA opened up the first 5 minutes of the second with a 15-8 run that saw them reclaim the lead after a post-move by Marcus Thornton with 15 minutes remaining.  Charles Mann, who was held scoreless before the break due to foul trouble, scored 8 of his 12 points during this stretch of the game. Additionally, after grabbing just 4 offensive rebounds in the contest’s first 20 minutes, Georgia pulled down 3 offensive boards in this same span.

Once again, Georgia had four players – Thornton, Mann, Kenny Gaines and J.J. Frazier – finish the game in double-figures.  Cameron Forte, who gave Coach Fox quality minutes off the bench this evening, nearly made the fifth player to reach double-digits, scoring 9 points to go along with 3 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals.

The Dawgs got their act together in the final 20 minutes of this contest, hitting almost 50% from the floor, and yielding just 4 offensive boards to the Rebels.

Ole Miss’s Stefan Moody led all scorers with 26 points.  UGA limited Jarvis Summers – who nets nearly 14 a night – to only 7 points in Athens.

Tonight’s victory gives Georgia another quality win against an RPI Top 50 opponent.  In his latest Bracketology this week, Joe Lunardi had UGA pitted as a 10-seed; however, Georgia’s stock surely will go up following this game.

This victory puts the Dawgs in a three-way tie for third place in the league.  For now.  Should Tennessee lose its game later tonight against South Carolina, Georgia would be locked into a four-way tie for second.

Saturday, Coach Fox’s team has a golden opportunity to steal a road conference win in Starkville against Missy State, a team that has started out just 1-3 in SEC play.

Dawgs beat Gators for second SEC win

After relinquishing big leads against both Arkansas and LSU (and nearly blowing a double-digit lead in its win over Vandy on Wednesday), Coach Mark Fox preached the importance of “closing” to his team heading into today’s matchup with conference rival Florida.

With 5:46 left in the game, UGA held a 61-51 advantage, but Florida still seemed too close given the inconsistency that Georgia had shown towards the end of its first three SEC games.

This afternoon, though, the Dawgs kept their composure and actually extended the advantage to close out the win, knocking off the Gators 73-61 in Athens.  This loss was the first for Florida in 24 SEC games, and it was definitely overdue for Georgia, who had dropped 18 of the previous 21 to the Gators.

Georgia started the game on fire, hitting its first 7 shots, allowing UGA to open up a 15-0 advantage.

Florida’s full-court pressure eventually began to wear down the Dawgs in the first half.  After not turning the ball over for the first 11 minutes of the game, UGA committed 8 turnovers in the final 9 minutes going into intermission, enabling the Gators to close Georgia’s advantage to just 36-31.  The Gators’ defense not only created turnovers, it also really limited the amount of time Mark Fox’s team had each possession to run its half-court sets, frustrating UGA offensively.

The Dawgs outscored the Gators 10-6 after the break, giving them a 46-37 lead with 15:16 left.  From this point on, though, Georgia never looked back, building a double-digit lead that they managed to keep for the next fifteen minutes.

UGA had four players finish in double-figures, with Kenny Gaines and Marcus Thornton leading the way with 16 apiece. Kenny Gaines, who came out briefly midway through the second half with an undisclosed injury, once again played fantastic for Coach Fox, connecting on 4 of his 5 three-point attempts.  Gaines has been lights out from beyond the arc since SEC play started, hitting 12 of his 21 attempts.

Surprisingly, Georgia – a team that couldn’t buy a three-point basket early in the season – entered today’s game with the best three-point shooting percentage in conference play at 43%.  In today’s game against the Gators, the Dawgs made 53% of their shots from the perimeter, proving that they are a dangerous team from the outside.

Georgia’s biggest flaw this afternoon was its ball security – UGA committed 16 turnovers.  Luckily, Coach Fox’s defense was able to turn the Gators over 19 times, a season-high for Billy Donovan’s team.

This win was huge for the Bulldogs, who even up their SEC record after starting the season 0-2 in conference games.  Georgia will look to go above .500 in the SEC when they take on Ole Miss in Athens on Tuesday.