AUBURN, Ala. — Georgia basketball coach Tom Crean can see the improvement, right before his eyes.
“We’ve gotten better this week, and we had moments where we showed that today,” Crean said. “But we had moments where we didn’t. It is a process we have to continue to learn from.”
The No. 11-ranked Auburn Tigers controlled Georgia throughout much of their 93-78 victory, but the Bulldogs stayed within striking distance.
A few more made shots and 50-50 balls, and UGA could have made things more interesting.
“Being down 10 didn’t feel like being down by 10 today at all, it really didn’t,” Bulldogs coach Tom Crean said. “But we didn’t do as good as a job in certain times in the game.
“It came down to the hustle points — the points off turnovers and the second-chance points, (and) when you go on the road you have to find a way to win those parts of the battle,” Crean said. “They scored six more points off turnovers, they scored seven more points off second-chance shots.”
Georgia was down 80-69 and running in transition with an opportunity to score more when Rayshaun Hammonds turned the ball over leading to a Tigers’ dunk with 4:05 left.
“When (Jared) Harper got the turnover and then he threw the lob, that broke our back a little bit,” Crean said. “Right there, that got the crowd back into it.”
Harper, from Mableton, Ga., led the Tigers with 22 points and 7 assists. Harper said after the game he never got an offer from previous UGA coach Mark Fox.
Auburn coach Bruce Pearl, the defending SEC champion in the fifth season of what’s been an impressive rebuild, said he knew the Tigers would be in for a game.
“Tom Crean has done a terrific job, they play with a confidence, an energy and a passion,” Pearl said. “I can tell you as a coach their stuff is hard to guard, and he’s got them believing, so we are pleased with the win.”
Georgia was 11-of-29 from beyond the 3-point arc (37.9 percent), but Crean said the team should have shot better considering the open looks.
Pearl said “we thought Georgia was better from two than three,” and so the Tigers guarded accordingly.
Forward Rayshaun Hammonds struggled down low, Auburn collapsing on him in the paint as he was held to single-digit scoring for the second time in three games on 2-of-6 shooting from the floor.
“I think he’s got to play quicker when he starts to make his drive, because they are bringing a double to the ball and that gets him a bit,” Crean said. “He has to rebound the ball offensively better, and he has to make a quicker move in the post, which makes it harder for someone to come double.”
Crean said Pearl has made Auburn a tough opponent, crediting him with improving his players’ skills and building a winning system.
“(Pearl) has done a really good job for a log time, everywhere he’s been of being on the glass, and driving the ball, and they play very good defense especially on the ball,” Crean said.
“When you give them a shoulder to attack, they are really good, when you open up your body a little bit, but credit goes to Bruce, he’s getting these guys really good.”
Georgia basketball coach Tom Crean