Georgia’s basketball season could be over after a furious rally from 12 down in the final stages of its SEC tournament opener came up one shot short against Missouri on Thursday night.
Bulldogs graduate transfer P.J. Horne got an open look from beyond the 3-point mark, but his shot failed to draw rim and the horn sounded on a 73-70 win at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.
“We missed some opportunities, but I’m proud of our effort,” UGA coach Tom Crean said. “Our guys battled hard, and they never flinched when they were down.”
Crean said Georgia would make it clear to the NCAA that it wants to opt-in for a spot in the NIT postseason tourney.
Georgia All-SEC sophomore guard Sahvir Wheeler set an SEC tourney record with 13 assists, also scoring a team-high 14 points for his league-high eighth double-double of the season.
Toumani Camara also recorded his eighth double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds, and K.D. Johnson came off the bench to score 12 points.
“We fought back,” Wheeler said. “We came back around, we knew we were capable of making a run, (but) they made a few extra plays than we did, and we missed some bunnies.
“I’m upset we lost. This is a game we could have won.”
Wheeler ignited a 9-0 run with 4:24 left that brought Georgia (14-12, 7-12 SEC) back within 66-65 on a Toumani Camara dunk with 3:04 left.
Missouri (16-8, 9-8), however, held off the charge by going 9-for-9 from the free-throw line the final 5 minutes of the game.
The Bulldogs played some of their best defense of the season despite the Tigers’ considerable height advantage, holding Missouri without a field goal (0-for-6) the final 6 minutes of the game while hitting 6 of 8 themselves.
Georgia, however, made a critical mistake with 19 seconds left with Toumani Camara at the free throw line to shoot two free throws with 19 seconds left and the Bulldogs down 69-67.
Graduate transfer Justin Kier committed a lane violation, however, taking away Camara’s first three throw attempt. Camara then missed his second, and UGA was forced to foul.
Missouri’s Dru Smith made a pair of free throws with 18 seconds left to extend Missouri’s lead to 71-67, but Kier redeemed himself with a made 3-pointer with 12 seconds left.
The Bulldogs fouled quick, and again, the Tigers were poised at the free-throw line, with Pinson hitting two free throws with 6 seconds left to make it 73-70.
Georgia raced the ball up the court and called a 30-second timeout with 4.7 seconds left. The Bulldogs had made 6 of their previous 7 shots, but Horne’s shot was off the mark.
UGA had held a 33-32 lead at the half before Missouri seemed to take complete control of the game with a 9-0 run to go up 55-46 at the 10:39 mark. A few minutes later, the lead swelled to 12.
Missouri jumped out to a 12-6 lead in the game, but the Bulldogs answered with a 6-0 run .
Georgia turned the tables with a 6-point lead of their own at 33-27 on a Wheeler layup and two Kier free throws.
The Tigers, however, closed the opening half on a 5-0 run including a Pinson buzzer-beating 3-pointer that would come back to haunt the Bulldogs.
Missouri advances to play No. 8-ranked Arkansas at 7 p.m. on Friday (TV: SEC Network).
The Razorbacks, the SEC tourney No. 2 seed, have won 8 straight dating back to an 81-77 loss to Oklahoma State on Jan. 30.