Georgia comeback falls short against #3 Michigan State

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Georgia’s first 60-something minutes of basketball in Maui definitely felt alarming. This team, which is headed by the top recruit in the nation, Anthony Edwards, was supposed to be clearly better than last year’s squad. Yet, after getting dismantled by Dayton a day before, the Dawgs looked primed for another whipping as Sparty held a 52-31 advantage at the break. Coach Izzo’s team at one point in the second half was up by 28 points as Georgia fans sat wondering how this UGA team somehow appeared even worse than the one from the contest against the Flyers.

Eventually, Anthony “Ant Man” Edwards snapped out of a 3 for 18 shooting funk that he’d been harboring on the island and remembered that he’s the projected #2 pick in the NBA draft. Edwards spent the second half terrorizing the Michigan State defense as he hit 7 triples and scored 33 of his 37 game-high points. The freshman was so locked in that his teammates seemed content to step aside and let him go off, which turned out to be a decent strategy as the Dawgs made a game out of what was at one point a lopsided blowout.

Twice Georgia managed to cut the Sparty advantage to just 4 points, and each time State responded with a clutch three-pointer to keep the Dawgs at bay. Even though UGA failed to make it a one-possession game after the intermission, Edwards’s Herculean effort that nearly brought his team back from the dead salvaged what could have been a really depressing holiday tournament.

It wasn’t all Edwards

While the Ant Man’s offense was certainly instrumental in this comeback, Tom Crean deserves a lot of credit for shifting his team into an extended 2-3 zone midway through the second half and keeping them in it. After shooting a blistering 56% from the floor prior to the break, Sparty knocked down a more pedestrian 44% following the intermission. The Georgia zone took MSU out of its offensive rhythm, and the Spartans stopped getting as many easy looks close to the basket as they did in the first half.

Transition defense must improve

The game against Dayton and the first half of the one with Sparty really exposed UGA’s transition defense, or lack thereof. The Dawgs struggled to hit shots in the first 20 minutes of today’s contest (31%), and State capitalized on the Georgia misses by pushing the ball and scoring off the primary and secondary break.

The second half saw a decline in the number of transition opportunities for Sparty, but that is more a tribute to Edwards and the UGA offense connecting on over 50% of its attempts from the floor. By making shots, Georgia gave itself time to get back and set up the aforementioned zone that frustrated State. However, Crean and his staff must coach these guys up so that they don’t let so many misses on the offensive end turn into quick points on the other side of the court.

Up next

The Dawgs will take on Division-II Chaminade in the ultimate consolation game on Wednesday. The Silversords call Hawaii home, which is most likely how they slipped into this field. Hopefully, Georgia doesn’t have too much trouble dispatching a less talented opponent in its final Maui Invitational appearance.

Crean’s team takes on NC Central next week in Athens before a difficult road test at Arizona State on December 14th. The game in Tempe will be Georgia’s next opportunity to measure itself against a quality opponent.

Georgia’s trip to Charlotte ends in a loss to Michigan State

Just five days after being invited to the dance, Georgia was abruptly forced to leave.  March Madness can be cruel in that way.  A five-month long season can come to an end in the span of a couple of hours.

Such was the case for the Georgia Bulldogs on Friday in Charlotte.

Everything started off so well.  The Dawgs made 3 of their first 6 shots from the floor, and after a pair of free throws from Marcus Thornton, UGA led 11-5 with 14:23 to go in the first half.

Unfortunately, this lead was the biggest and only one that Coach Mark Fox’s team would own on the afternoon.

From that point, everything began to fall apart for UGA.  The Dawgs turned in their worst defensive performance of the season, in my opinion.  Georgia looked mystified in defending Michigan State screens, unable to decide how they wanted to attempt to stop it.

The result:  State either scored easy dunks when the post player slipped the screen, or one of the MSU guards was left wide open for a three, a shot that the Spartans did not struggle with on Friday, hitting 7 of 18 from beyond the arc.

In addition to their ineffective half court defense, Georgia refused to get back on misses and turnovers, which led to 19 fast break points for the Spartans (UGA had just 8).

Speaking of turnovers, the Dawgs had 10 at the break to go along with a team field goal percentage of just 28% – all of which enabled Michigan State to take a commanding 35-22 advantage into the intermission.

However, despite the Dawgs’ sloppy play, they still had their chances in the second half.  Twice Georgia possessed the ball down 39-37 with under 14 minutes to play and a chance to tie or take the lead, but all the Dawgs could muster were three  misses and a turnover.  MSU then put together an 8-2 run that boosted the score up to 47-39, in favor of the Spartans.

But credit Mark Fox’s team for fighting till the very last second, as they have all season.  Even though UGA trailed by 12 points with less than 90 seconds remaining, the Dawgs continued to attack the basket and draw fouls.  Georgia cut the Spartan lead to as low as 66-63 with only 21 seconds left, but Tom Izzo’s team stepped up and connected on its free throws, earning the 70-63 victory.

In its biggest game of the season, UGA failed to convert, hitting only 33% of its field goals and just 28% from beyond the arc.    Charles Mann played strong, leading the team with 19 points, and Kenny Gaines chipped in 15 points in just 20 minutes of play.

Marcus Thornton finished with a double-double, scoring 12 points and grabbing 10 boards, but he did not have his best game.  Offensively, Thornton looked similar to a version of himself from his sophomore year, unable to finish near the bucket, where he made only 2 of 8 shots.  He also struggled to defend State’s Brandon Dawson, who scored all 14 of his points in the second half.

Neme Djurisic and J.J. Frazier had tough games as well.  Neme hit just 2 of his 9 attempts from the floor for 7 points, and J.J. failed to knock down a single field goal, turning in a goose egg in the stat sheet.  In the last several games, Frazier has begun attempting more shots from inside the lane, which haven’t led to many buckets, possibly due to his small stature.

UGA ends the season 21-12 after the second-round exit from the NCAA Tournament.

I found it shocking when they flashed on the screen that this year was Michigan State’s 18th consecutive tournament appearance, a feat that seems unimaginable to a UGA basketball fan, pure fantasy.  Playing in the NCAA Tournament is something that happens for Georgia every five or six years, but for Tom Izzo’s teams, it’s an expectation.

Coach Mark Fox and his staff I’m sure would love to create similar expectations in Athens.

Georgia draws Sparty in the Big Dance

The Georgia Bulldogs (10) will play the Michigan State Spartans (7) in Charlotte on Friday in the second round of this year’s NCAA Tournament.

While the Spartans are March Madness regulars, Georgia will be making its first appearance in the NCAA’s since 2011.  In that game, Georgia was also a 10-seed and they played in Charlotte, losing 68-65 to the Washington Huskies.

MSU will be coming into this game red-hot, winning its final four games before losing in overtime to the #6 Wisconsin Badgers in the Big Ten Championship on Sunday.

The Dawgs and Spartans share one common opponent this season – Minnesota; Georgia lost to the Gophers before conference play began, while MSU topped Minnesota in overtime in a league game.

The Spartans appear to be very balanced on offense – much like UGA – with 4 players averaging more than 8 points per game.  Michigan State shoots the ball well, connecting on 47% of its field goals and nearly 39% of its shots from beyond the arc this season.

Coach Mark Fox will need a healthy Kenny Gaines on Friday if his Bulldogs hope to play into the weekend in the Queen City.

Moral Victories?

I hope that everyone got what they wanted for Christmas today (my present came early back in November at Historic Grant Field).

Ten games into the 2009-2010 basketball season and the Hoop Dawgs are sitting at an unassuming 6-4.  Their biggest win so far has to be the one over orange people from Illinois.  Hopefully Coach Fox has a few more big wins stored up his sleeve before they get into the SEC schedule…

I was looking at the 4 losses (Wofford, UAB, Virginia Tech, St. John’s) the other day, and I started taking comfort in the successes these teams have had thus far:

UAB (11-1) – The Blazers are riding a 10-game win streak that includes victories over Butler and Cincinnati

Virginia Tech (10-1) – The Hokies are winners of 7 straight games, and in the process have knocked off Iowa and Penn State.

St. John’s (10-2) – The Red Storm has beaten Siena and Temple (both teams that will most likely make the tourney), and they lost a close one at Duke.

Wofford (7-6) – The Terriers have the worst record of this bunch, but that’s only because they have played a brutal out-of-conference schedule with losses to Pitt, Illinois and Michigan State.  They upset South Carolina last week to make themselves 2-0 against the SEC.

This puts the combined record of Georgia’s opponents that they have lost to this season at a stunning 38-10.  I am (as I am sure all of you are as well) aware of the old adage “There’s no such thing as moral victories”.  I remember hearing it when I played, as I am sure many others have heard it as well.  In some regards it does hold true…but for a Georgia team that finished last season 12-19 (3-13 in SEC play) I think it’s ok to take a little pride in these four losses.