ATHENS — Georgia’s Anthony Edwards exited to a standing ovation fit for an NBA lottery pick after starting the night looking very much like the 18-year-old freshman that he is.
“That’s definitely a moment I’ll remember, the crowd giving me a standing ovation,” Edwards said. “It brought joy to my heart, it’s something that will always stay with me.”
The Bulldogs beat Western Carolina 91-72 in both teams’ season-opening game. Edwards scored 24 points to lead all scorers, 7-of-16 shooting with nine rebounds, four steals and three assists.
Edwards’ 24 points were the most by a UGA freshman in their debut since Dominique Wilkins scored 26 points in his debut against Troy State in 1979.
Fellow freshman Sahvir Wheeler had 19 points and 3 assists, and Tyree Crump had 15 points before the crowd of 8,722 at Stegeman Coliseum.
But it was when Edwards scored and how he asserted himself that impressed.
Western Carolina held a 58-57 lead with nine minutes left, Edwards just 3-of-12 shooting with three turnovers and one assist to that point in the game.
And then it happened.
A Western Carolina defender backed off Edwards in the corner, conceding an open look to the Atlanta high school legend.
Edwards drained the shot, giving the Bulldogs a 60-58 leads, and the next minute was the stuff of hoop dreams.
Edwards dished an assist inside to big man Rodney Howard for a bucket that extended the lead to 62-58, and then he rebounded a Catamounts miss, and dealt out yet another assist to Tyree Crump who drained a 3 and made it 65-58 with 8:02 on the clock.
In less than one minute, Edwards made Georgia look like a good basketball team, and the Bulldogs led the rest of the night.
Thanks to Edwards.
Western Carolina had closed back to 65-63 when Edwards snapped off his dribble at the top of the key, shaking his defender and hitting a 3-pointer to give UGA a 68-63 cushion.
Edwards set up a Christian Brown for a layup the next trip down — Brown missed, and then missed two ensuing free throws.
So Edwards took matters into his own hands again the next trip down, hitting a 3-pointer to make it 71-63.
“With a guy like [Anthony],” Crean said before the game, “his teammates do feed off him so much.”
UGA fans gave Edwards a standing ovation when he fouled out with just over two minutes remaining.
Georgia tailed 38-37 after a see-saw first half that saw 13 lead changes with neither team leading by more than 4 points.
Edwards had 12 of his points through the first 20 minutes. He connected on 3 of 9 shots from the floor and 5 of 7 free throws, sharing the team lead with 5 rebounds in his first 16 official minutes as a collegian.
Edwards’ first career basket was a not-so-sensational layup at the 15:34 mark, giving UGA an 8-6 at the time.