ATHENS — The start of the Tom Crean Georgia basketball era looked more like a track meet much of the night, the Bulldogs running away with a 110-76 win over Savannah State.
It was the first time Georgia scored more than 100 points in a men’s basketball game since 2007, and the most points since a 113-74 win over Grambling State in 1999.
Georgia burst out to a 14-0 lead Friday night at Stegeman Coliseum and was up by 25 points at the half.
The 9,018 in attendance represented the largest home crowd for a Bulldogs’ season opener since 1981, when 11,200 showed up to see UGA play Georgia Tech.
“It was fun to see the enthusiasm people have had turning to bodies and live energy in the crowd,” Crean said. “I’ve been looking forward to it, and I’m thankful to everyone at Georgia, the way they pushed it and marketed it, the cheerleaders, the band.”
The Bulldogs’ players did their part, too.
UGA’s size and skills were clearly superior to the Mid Eastern Athletic Conference Tigers as the teams raced up and down the court with little defense being played.
Savannah State opened the second half on a 20-4 run, cutting the lead to 63-54 with 14:22 left on Zaquavian Smith’s 3-pointer, triggering a Crean timeout.
“Coach told us keep to keep fighting and just execute the offense,” Georgia guard Tyree Crump said.
Georgia senior point guard William “Turtle” Jackson hit a 3-pointer out of the timeout with 14 minutes left to make it 66-54, and then he recorded a steal, leading to Tye Fagan’s conventional three-point play that pushed the lead back up to 69-54.
“Once Turtle hit that three,” Crump said, “that kind of changed the momentum of the game and we went from there.”
The Tigers failed to cut the lead to single digits the remainder of the game.
Teshaun Hightower scored a career-high 18 points to pace five Bulldogs scorers in double figures.
Nicolas Claxton recorded his first career double-double with career highs in points (15) and rebounds (13).
Savannah State was 17-of-57 shooting beyond the 3-point arc, running and gunning regardless of time, score or game situation.
Crean knew what was coming, taking to his Twitter account to give the Georgia fans an idea of the kind of production they would be in for at Stegeman Coliseum:
Tonight’s opener with @savannahstate is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in coaching with their pace. They’ve taken 78 and 54 threes in their last two games. We want to play fast but they want to play like a 🚀 taking off. The STEG will be a fun place to be tonight.
— Tom Crean (@TomCrean) November 9, 2018
The Tigers, who led the nation in 3-point makes and attempts last season, featured eight junior college transfers.
Savannah State opened its season on Wednesday night in College Station against Texas A&M, falling to the Aggies 98-83.
Georgia held a 59-34 lead at the half, out rebounding Savannah State 36-20 through the first 20 minutes in the uptempo game.
It was the Bulldogs’ most points in a half since scoring 60 in the second half of the 2007 win over Jacksonville State (107-65) at the start of the Cinderella SEC Tournament Championship season.
Claxton dunked on the first two possessions and Derek Ogbeide following with a slam to trigger the 14-0 lead.
“We wanted to come out and set the tone early,” Claxton said. “We didn’t want to give them any confidence.”
Savannah State missed its first 12 shots, going 0-for-8 beyond the 3-point arc in the first four minutes before senior Jahlin Smith connected on a 3-pointer at the 15:49 mark to make it 14-3. Smith led the Tigers with 20 points.
Georgia returns to action at 7 p.m. next Tuesday at Temple.
The Bulldogs next home game is at 7 p.m. next Friday against Sam Houston State.