ATHENS — Rayshaun Hammonds says he just wants to win, and now that the 6-foot-8, 240-pounder has figured out what it will take from him, Georgia basketball could prove dangerous.
Hammonds matched his season high in scoring with 26 points, also leading the young Bulldogs with 9 rebounds in their 82-78 win over an experienced and battled-tested Georgia Tech on Wednesday night.
It was Georgia’s fifth-straight win in the rivalry, the first time that has happened in 79 years.
“Rayshaun has had a breakthrough,” second-year Georgia coach Tom Crean said Wednesday night. “You never known when breakthroughs are going to come, (and) you never know how breakthroughs are going to come, and you can’t plan them.
“They have to be natural and he’s doing a good job. Ray is letting things come to him.”
Anthony Edwards, one of 10 new players on the team and a 6-5 combo guard projected to be a lottery pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, explained why the ball went inside to Hammonds throughout the first half.
“They were pressing me and Tyree (Crump) hard when we were getting the ball,” Edwards said. “So if they are pressing us, we’ve got the best four man in the country, he’s going to eat.”
Indeed, Hammonds scored 19 of his points in the first half, helping Georgia take a 35-27 lead to intermission.
“I thought [Rayshaun] Hammonds was a stud tonight,” Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner said. “Obviously, we recruited him hard, too. He’s a really good basketball player and he really had a great game and is a big difference maker for them, especially in that first half.
“That was the difference tonight, what Hammonds did in the first half, that set the tone.”
Crean has been challenging Hammonds to be a difference-maker and set the tone in practice, too, harping on him publicly and privately to become more consistent.
Edwards can score all the points and make all the highlights, but if Hammonds doesn’t provide a physical presence in the paint, Georgia will likely miss the NCAA Tournament for what would be the seventh time in the past eight years.
The Bulldogs’ hopes took a major hit last summer when All-SEC sophomore Nicolas Claxton left for the NBA, adding to attrition that included six seniors and three underclassmen transfers.
Georgia lost more than 56 percent of its scoring off last year’s team and 63 percent of its rebounding.
But Edwards has come in with a signing class that ranked fifth in the nation, and the 10 new players have brought enough firepower and positive energy to help get Hammonds going.
“The incoming freshmen took a lot of stress off me, because they can play,” said Hammonds, who was ranked the 51st-best player in the 2017 class coming out of Norcross.
“We have dogs, nobody is scared to get on the floor. The main focus is to play physical, you don’t want to get punked by other teams.”
Hammonds has proven he can supply the muscle as well as provide an outside touch, connecting on 2 of 4 attempts beyond the 3-point arc against Georgia Tech.
“Rayshaun did a great job leading us,” Edwards said, “and we followed.”
Georgia basketball’s Anthony Edwards and Rayshaun Hammonds
Georgia basketball coach Tom Crean
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