ATHENS — It was Ugly Christmas Sweater Night at Stegeman Coliseum, but there was nothing more hideous than what Georgia did with an 18-point lead against No. 20 Arizona State on Saturday night.
The Bulldogs blew all of it and then some, losing 76-74.
Georgia stayed out front until the final minutes, and then didn’t go away after falling behind for the first time the whole game with 2:43 to play. They’d gain the lead again, and then lose it again in the final 25 seconds, but the Bulldogs still had a chance.
The final blow came when Jordan Harris turned the ball over with a cross-court pass on an inbounds down one point with eight seconds remaining. The turnover was unfortunate for Harris because his steals on back-to-back possessions helped give the Bulldogs their last lead of the game on a Tyree Crump layup with 20 seconds to go.
“It was supposed to go to me, but I wasn’t open,” Crump said of the fateful inbounds play. “It was just a mistake.”
The loss dropped the Bulldogs to 5-4 on the season, their first under coach Tom Crean. Georgia plays host to Oakland (Mich.) University on Tuesday night at 7. They’ll travel to Atlanta on Saturday to face archrival Georgia Tech in a noon game (ESPNU).
Arizona State improves to 8-1.
“It’s all part of the growth process, but we’ve got to learn to close-out games,” Crean said.
Georgia still trailed only two after Luguentz Dort made one of two free throws with 7.9 seconds to go. With a chance for one last shot at it, Georgia’s Nicolas Claxton took the baseline in-bounds pass, dribbled the length of the court, then missed running 14-foot jump shot as the final buzzer sounded.
Turnovers were the bugaboo for the Bulldogs. They committed four in a row after building a 47-29 lead with less than a minute left in the first half. The trend would continue in the second and Georgia finished with 19 turnovers.
The winning shot was about all that Dort did well for the Sun Devils. The heralded freshman from Canada, who came in leading Arizona State with a 22-point average, finished with 12 on 2-of-10 shooting. It’s was the Sun Devils’ other guard, Remy Martin, for whom the Bulldogs couldn’t find an answer. He led all scorers with 21 points and added 8 assists.
Rayshaun Hammonds and Crump each had 19 points, but Hammonds and the Bulldogs battled foul trouble all night. Hammonds fouled out with 4:41 to play. Georgia’s Derek Ogbeide played only 13 minutes due to early and constant foul trouble but managed to finish the game with 4 personals.
“Losing Ray there really hurt,” said Crean, who did not have a problem with the officiating overall. “I have a lot of respect for that crew.”
Martin, who was a thorn in the Bulldogs’ side all night, made one of the biggest plays of the game with 3:11 remaining. He stole the ball from Crump at midcourt and converted a layup to get his within 70-69. After Claxton missed the front end of a one-and-one, Martin would make a long jump shot to give the Sun Devils their first lead of the game.
Georgia staked itself to an 18-point lead in the first half and could have expanded it from there. Instead, the Bulldogs turned it over on their last three possessions. The Sun Devils converted free throws on two of theirs to trail 47-33 at halftime.
Hammonds led the Bulldogs with 14 points in the opening 20 minutes, including two 3-pointers. The Bulldogs also led the rebounding battle 22-15, a point of emphasis from the coaching staff this week.