ATHENS — Georgia basketball made some great memories in Stegeman Coliseum this season, but Wednesday night’s regular-season finale wasn’t one of them.
Florida (19-11, 11-6 SEC) beat the Bulldogs (15-15, 5-12) by the count of 68-54. The Gators rallied from 13 down in the first half and pulled away down the stretch.
“We just had a good stretch the last two weeks, where we (won) three out of four and could have won four of four,” Coach Tom Crean said. “We took a step back tonight.”
Freshman Anthony Edwards led UGA with 14 points on 3-of-10 shooting, and Edwards also had three turnovers.
“I thought the biggest factor tonight far and away was the way we defended them,” Florida coach Mike White said.
“Georgia, over the last three, is averaging 90 (points). They’re so hard to defend, and we had our struggles this year, but that’s as well as we’ve defended all year.”
Georgia set a single-season home attendance record and finished 12-5 in Athens.
The Bulldogs honored three senior players before the game: Tyree Crump, Jordan Harris and Donnell Gresham Jr.
Many believe it was also Edwards’ final home game, as he’s a projected NBA lottery pick.
Edwards, however, wouldn’t confirm he’s leaving after this season.
“I don’t look at it like my last home game,” Edwards said. “No one knows what I’m doing.”
Everyone knew Georgia was looking good early on Wednesday night, hitting its first seven shots and racing out to a 19-6 lead.
The Bulldogs were unable to sustain, however, falling out of sync and out of rhythm in their half-court sets.
“We stopped cutting as much as we needed to cut, whether it was man or zone (defense),” Crean said. “We probably, for a little stretch there, started to think about our own offense rather than thinking about how much we needed to move.
“If Nike made 50-pound shoes, a couple of our guys had them on.”
Florida didn’t lead until Scottie Lewis hit a pair of free throws with 11:47 left in the game to make it 42-40.
The Gators had drawn even five times to that point but didn’t surge ahead until the Lewis free throws in the midst of the 8-0 run.
Andrew Nembhard’s 3-pointer capped the Florida rally and made it 45-40 with 10:09 remaining.
The Bulldogs answered with a 6-0 run to go back up 46-45 with 7:47 left, and Florida called for a timeout.
The Georgia burst featured a sensational Edwards’ dunk, the freshman flying high and throwing down with enough authority to bring the crowd to its feet.
White’s timeout served its purpose, however. The crowd quieted as play resumed, and Georgia went into a self-destruction mode.
The Bulldogs turned the ball over on four straight possessions and Florida raced to a 55-46 lead. The Gators’ 10-0 run featured consecutive 3-pointers and a Keyontae Johnson (18 points) dunk.
UGA, which finished with 16 turnovers to Florida’s 8, didn’t get closer than five the remainder of the game.
The loss assures Georgia it will open play next Wednesday at the SEC tournament, when the four lowest seeds tip off in Nashville.
The Bulldogs had held a 30-28 lead at the half.
Rayshaun Hammonds had eight points in the first four minutes, but he scored just four more the rest of the game.
Hammonds finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds — a quiet double-double — but also, six turnovers.
The mistakes enabled the Gators to answer UGA’s fast start with an 8-0 run of their own, UGA going nine straight possessions without scoring.
Crump finally ended the dry spell driving for a basket with 8 minutes left in the half to keep the Bulldogs on top, 21-14.
Georgia held the lead the rest of the first half but struggled, making just 5 of its final 19 shot attempts.
The Bulldogs close out the regular season at 2 p.m. on Saturday at LSU (TV:ESPN2).
The Bayou Bengals fell to 20-10 overall and 11-6 in league play with a 99-90 loss at Arkansas on Wednesday night.
Georgia coach Tom Crean