ATHENS — The record suggests one thing, but the resilience proved another.
Georgia basketball was just getting going when the sports world came to a stop one week ago today.
“We were actually just getting the chairs pulled up to watch some more film of Florida before we did our final walk through after our breakfast and stretching,” Georgia coach Tom Crean said, recalling how things unfolded last Thursday when the rest of the SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament was canceled.
No doubt, the shutdown of the remainder of the NBA season the night before had been a sign of things to come across the country.
There has been one closing after another, sports in no way excluded from the coronavirus pandemic that many health officials believe originated in China and has spread around the world.
But in looking back at the Georgia basketball season, the second under Crean, it finished on a decidedly high note.
The program is by no means a finished project. The roster remains in dire need of tall, dominant players like prematurely departed UGA player Nicholas Claxton.
But even without Claxton, who left school early to split this past season between the NBA G-League and precious few minutes with the Brooklyn Nets, Georgia managed a .500 finish while making a little history along the way.
Anyone who was still tuned in for the start of the SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament last week — who dared to believe there might still be hope for this UGA group — was rewarded with the 81-63 win over Ole Miss.
The Bulldogs moved in the half-court offense throughout. They took advantage of transition opportunities and finished at the rim, they communicated on defense, they deflected passes, they hit the boards, they hit shots.
And they won, impressively. The team’s most-lopsided SEC victory came when it mattered most, momentum had seemingly arrived just in time with Florida on deck.
Chris Marler, a writer for SDS, had Georgia winning his mock SEC tournament via a last-second shot from Anthony Edwards against Arkansas.
UPDATE FROM NASHVILLE…
OH MY GOD! OH MY GOD!
ANTHONY EDWARDS HITS A 19 FOOTER AT THE BUZZER TO WIN THE TOURNEY 80-79!!!#SECTourney
— Chris Marler (@VerneFUNquist) March 15, 2020
A far-fetched scenario? Maybe.
But we did see the Bulldogs knock the Razorbacks off the bubble two weeks ago in what proved to be the final home victory of the season.
Crean’s team was as impressive then as when they beat No. 9 Memphis on the road on Jan. 4, recording what was only the second road win over a Top 25 non-conference foe in program history.
No doubt, Georgia looked good putting an 80-63 thumping on Tennessee at Stegeman Coliseum on Jan. 15, too. It was quite the turnaround from the 46-point loss the Bulldogs suffered in Knoxville the year before, to the extent of silencing the infamous VolTwitter crowd.
“Just like football, just like football!” the Georgia fans chanted as time wound down.
And, any win over a Bruce Pearl-coached Auburn team is worth celebrating, which Crean and his team did after a 65-55 victory on Feb. 19.
But that win over Ole Miss last Wednesday was just as impressive in some respects.
Never mind the Rebels 15-16 record, or the fact it was a 12-13 game in the opening round.
What impressed most was that Georgia bounced back from sound defeats at the hands of Florida (68-54) and on the road at LSU (94-64).
One of the worst losses of the season was followed by one of the biggest wins — just four days later.
That’s resilience, and that translates into leadership from coaches and players.
Junior Rayshaun Hammonds, recently described as “standoffish” at times by a teammate, wore a smile and played with passion. Hammonds’ 22 points and 11 rebounds were the sort of performance most believe he’s capable of every night out in the SEC.
Senior guard Jordan Harris showed his coordination could match his athleticism, making 8 of 11 shots and defending well while fouling just once.
Point guard Sahvir Wheeler set the season freshman record for assists, dishing out eight and keeping the offensive on the attack.
Sahvir Wheeler set UGA freshman single-season assists record Photo: UGA sports/Tony Walsh
And then there was Anthony Edwards, the 18 1/2-year-old phenom from Atlanta, and the center of attention on the team.
The so-called “Antman” didn’t put the team on his back via his scoring, as he did in many other prime moments, so much as his maturity.
Edwards didn’t allow a poor shooting night — 2 of 13 — to affect his defensive efforts or ball movement.
Finally, it seemed, Crean’s team had turned the corner.
And then just as suddenly, sports hit a wall.
“It has been a group that has worked to get better, they worked extremely hard, they’ve learned a lot about hard work,” Crean said. “They’ve learned a lot about perseverance, they’ve gone through so many different experiences.”
And there’s more to come, eventually.
Georgia’s Anthony Edwards led all freshman in scoring this season. Tony Walsh/ UGA Sports
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