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Towers’ Take: Bulldogs, Maten can build on KC experience

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — There will be a lot of people who will just glance at the line score and shrug at Georgia’s 65-54 loss to No. 5 Kansas Tuesday night. But the Bulldogs weren’t shrugging.

They were miffed. They were disappointed. They were kicking stuff afterward, because they genuinely believed they could win.

And they could have. They could have had anybody not named Yante Maten been able to make a shot. Maten had 30 points on 11-of-23 shooting and finished with 13 rebounds. To nobody’s surprise, he was named to the CBE Hall of Fame Classic all-tournament team.

The rest of the team shot 21.6 percent (8 for 37).

“You’ve gotta make shots to win,” a dejected coach Mark Fox said afterward. “We just didn’t shoot the ball well. Give the Kansas defense credit for that, but we shot the ball so poorly for three-fourths of the game, we just couldn’t stay close enough to be in position to win it.”

And yet they were. Inside four minutes left the Bulldogs were within eight, with the ball and in position to score. But a solid pass to freshman guard Jordan Harris bounced off his hands and out of bounds for a turnover. KU would then snuff whatever flicker was left to the Bulldogs’ flame and pushed back ahead by double digits.

“The magnitude of the game, I didn’t think our young guys handled it that well,” Fox said. “So they didn’t chip in as much as they did the first night.”

Harris, Tyree Crump and Pape Diatta, all first-year players, were a combined 1-for-7 with five turnovers. Mike Edwards, who had eight points in the semifinals, had three in the finals, all on foul shots.

As ever, though, the Bulldogs kind of go as J.J. Frazier goes, and Georgia’s dynamo guard just couldn’t get his 3-ball tracking. He was 0-6 from 3-point range and 1-for-10 from the field and finished with a season-low two points. His previous low was 11.

As a team the Bulldogs were 3-of-18 (16.7 percent) from beyond the arc. It was a dreadful shooting performance, exacerbated by the Jayhawks’ long-and-lean team.

But it didn’t start out that way. The Bulldogs shot out to an 8-2 lead and led by five five minutes into it. The Jayhawks, famous for their gargantuan front lines, had no answer for Georgia’s relative pipsqueak of a forward in Maten. A 6-8, 240-pound junior, Maten scored 15 of the Bulldogs’ first 18 points and had 17 by halftime. The Kansas-based sports writers, out en force to cover the state’s biggest attraction, were bedazzled by Maten’s moves among the giants.

While the value in that might not have resulted in victory Tuesday, there should be some shelf-life to the self-confidence it produced in Maten.

“I practice against Derek (Ogbeide) and Mike (Edwards) every day and, in my opinion, they’re really good bigs as well. So when we play we go at it and we never take a play off. … So when we get up here we won’t be surprised.”

Fox wasn’t.

“We felt like Yante was going to be able to be a dominant force in the game,” he said. “We knew in the first half that nobody else was scoring, but Yante was scoring every time. We wanted to keep going to him. He was drawing fouls, he was making a lot of really good plays. We wanted to keep going to him.”

Alas, basketball is a five-man game, and guys like Edwards and Juwan Parker and Pape Diatta, who made big contributions on Monday, were unable to make much of an impact a day later.

But the Bulldogs can build on this. Frazier is not going to go 1-for-10 many other nights. In fact, he had only two such shooting performances in 34 games last season.

Parker had 11 rebounds and Ogbeide 11 points in the semifinals. Turtle Jackson has made four 3s in the last two games. A win would’ve shocked the world, but there’s a lot to build on from here.

“We were prepared to play,” Fox said. “We thought we could win the game. We’re disappointed we didn’t win the game. We thought we could. We just didn’t have enough guys chip in.”