Before we even talk about that second half, consider this chilling fact: Auburn has 3 starters that are from Georgia (12-6, 3-4). Shooting guard Bryce Brown, who scored 28 points on 5 three-pointers, is from Tucker. Georgia’s Juwan Parker, who was the recipient of much of Brown’s abuse, probably wishes that his coach had offered the Auburn junior. Tigers’ point guard Jared Harper had 13 points, 6 assists and 2 steals; Anfernee McLemore had 10 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocks. All of them are from the Peach State.
Here’s the box score:
At this point, it’s still hard to believe that the first half even happened. After building up a 40-26 lead at the break, Georgia fell to pieces coming out for the final 20 minutes of play. Auburn switched out of its man defense and into a 1-3-1 zone, and Georgia responded by standing around a lot on offense. The Tigers came out of the intermission firing from the perimeter as they hit 4 of 5 from beyond the arc in the first 5 minutes, and all of a sudden the Georgia lead was just 42-39. Auburn would knock down 6 three’s in the second half and 10 in the game. After holding the Tigers, a team averaging 83 points a game in SEC play, to just 26 points in the first 20 minutes, it was surreal to watch Bruce Pearl’s team blow the doors off Georgia in such an incredibly dominant fashion. Auburn shot 25% in the first half, but knocked down over 58% in the second, while Georgia went from 56% from the field prior to the break to just 25% from the floor after it. UGA didn’t convert its first field goal of the second half until there was only 6:45 left to play in the game. I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a team dish out a 31-4 run to start a half; I hope I never have to see such a spectacle again.
Basically, the wheels starting coming off, came off and then rolled all the way to Toomer’s Corner before Mark Fox and Georgia recognized what was happening. Fox let his team play through the Tiger onslaught all the way to the first media timeout of the second half, despite his team being the victim of a 10-0 run. Auburn would score 15 more points to Georgia’s 2 before Fox deemed it necessary to call a timeout to try to stymie the Tigers’ momentum. By that point, UGA’s 14-point halftime advantage had turned into a 51-44 lead for Auburn. Yante Maten, the obvious person to get the ball to when things needed to settle, only had 2 shot attempts through the first 14 minutes of the second half. Maten wasn’t without fault, however, as he gave the ball away 3 times during that same time span and ended up with 6 turnovers on the night. Georgia’s offense stopped moving and its passes got sloppy as the Dawgs committed 13 turnovers following the break (18 in the game). Whatever Fox’s strategy was for calming his team in this raucous atmosphere, it didn’t take. Personally, I thought the team might have benefited from a timeout on several occasions early in the second half just to slow things down a bit.
Even when Georgia held the advantage in the first half, it didn’t feel sustainable. For starters, Juwan Parker, a career 20% three-point shooter, had 3 triples and 13 points before the intermission. UGA never looked comfortable on offense against Auburn’s man pressure, and the Dawgs certainly weren’t attacking the rim – Georgia didn’t shoot a single free throw in the first half until Hammonds took a pair with 5:01 left once the Dawgs got into the bonus. UGA hit 7 from the stripe during this final stretch before the half which helped them add to their lead.
I hate to sound like a broken record, but once again Georgia’s guard play was inadequate, and this definitely feels like it will be the recurring theme for the remainder of the season. Auburn, much like LSU, South Carolina and Missouri, extended its man-to-man defense and pushed the Georgia guards well outside the perimeter. UGA’s Turtle Jackson does not possess the ball-handling skills that are necessary to put a defender on his heels and create space – that’s just not his game. Freshman Teshaun Hightower may become that player, but he’s not there yet. Jackson’s scoring average has dipped below double digits to 9.8 ppg, leaving Maten as the only Bulldog averaging in double-figures. Through the first 7 SEC games, Turtle is getting only 5.3 points a night. Jackson is seeing a lot more defensive pressure, and that trend will only continue as the Dawgs progress through their SEC slate.
When Coach Fox signed 4-stars Jordan Harris and Tyree Crump two years ago, it seemed that he had found his backcourt replacements to handle the spot that J.J. Frazier would eventually vacate. However, neither of those guys played a whole lot last year, which might have hampered their development. Harris’s role on the team is convoluted at best as he’s a two-guard that doesn’t like to handle the ball and can’t shoot it that well. If Harris were 6’7″ he’d be a perfect wing a la former UGA player Brandon Morris, but alas, Jordan is just 6’4″ and stuck with the misappropriated title of “shooting guard”. Tyree Crump came into he game and scored 5 points quickly – one on a beautiful spin move that he finished at the bucket and then another on a triple. For whatever reason, though, the sophomore only logged 8 minutes tonight. Even when UGA couldn’t buy a bucket in the second half, Crump, who might be the second-best scorer on the team, remained on the bench. The knock on Crump is that he doesn’t defend well and turns the ball over too much. Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t that describe nearly every Georgia guard? I’d think Crump’s scoring prowess could at least negate some of those criticisms, especially on a team that has major issues on the offensive side of the ball.
The remainder of Georgia’s SEC schedule is daunting to say the least: two games with Florida, two with #21 Tennessee, another with #17 Auburn, one at Vandy (where UGA never wins), one at South Carolina and a home game against a Texas A&M team at the end of February when the Aggies should be at full-strength and in full NCAA Tournament form. Mark Fox’s team will be extremely fortunate to finish this season with a .500 conference record.