Five observations as Georgia rallied – behind two players – to beat Tennessee, 81-72, on Wednesday night at Stegeman Coliseum.
1. THE GAINES AND FRAZIER SHOW
When Georgia was dangerously on the brink, Kenny Gaines and J.J. Frazier took over.
The two guards combined to score 25 straight Georgia points – over a span of 9 minutes and 33 seconds in the second half – and the Bulldogs went from trailing by nine to leading by 10.
Frazier provided the biggest moment of the 25-6 run: He grabbed a long rebound in traffic, made a great spin move near midcourt to dodge a defender, then hit a pull-up 3 to bring Georgia within one, and the crowd to its feet.
“J.J. just has a special touch sometimes where a bad shot can be a great shot,” Gaines said, chuckling.
One possession later Gaines hit a go-ahead 3, off a great drive and pass out by Charles Mann. Then came a 3 by Gaines, and seven straight points by Frazier to finish their run.
Frazier had a game-high 28 points, along with a team-high eight rebounds. That was after committing a team-high four turnovers in the first half.
Gaines finished the game with 23 points, and that was despite not playing the final 8:55 of the first half after picking up his second foul.
“We have more than just one guy,” Georgia head coach Mark Fox said. “It’s not just Yante. It’s not like when we just had Kentavious (Caldwell-Pope) and that was it. We’ve got a number of guys who can score, and they don’t have to score every night. We need a couple of them, and tonight we had J.J. and Kenny who had good nights.”
2. AN ABYSMAL FIRST HALF
The reason Georgia (now 9-5 overall and 2-2 in the SEC) was in trouble was that it committed 16 turnovers in the first half. In fact the Bulldogs had turnovers on 12 of their first 23 possessions. It finished the first half with 16. For perspective: Georgia’s previous season high for turnovers was 21.
But after committing two more quick turnovers in the second half, the Bulldogs only turned it over twice in the final 18 minutes.
“We calmed down,” Maten said. “We were playing overly excited in the first half. We were trying to make a lot of home run plays but I think the second half we just played how we play.”
The first-half miscues came in every form: Bad passes, offensive fouls, careless dribbles in open space. Fox, desperate to calm things down, put all three of his point guards in at the same time: Frazier, Mann and freshman Turtle Jackson. (Of course Frazier himself was guilty of four turnovers in the first 12 minutes.)
The Bulldogs just seemed out of sorts in general: Twice on inbounds plays nobody initially came up to take the pass. They also started 2-for-7 from the free throw line.
Fox said he was “extremely concerned” with how the team would respond to the Ole Miss loss, and after a quick start – Georgia went up 9-2 on three straight 3s – the Bulldogs collapsed the rest of the half.
“We played somewhat soft – no, no, no – we played very soft in the first half,” Fox said. “A little bit of feeling sorry for ourselves.”
3. HAPPY BIRTHDAY
Fox, who turned 47 on Wednesday, started the day by having cake for breakfast, cookied by his daughter.
“It was phenomenal,” Fox said. “And my guess is they’ll have the last of it when I get home.”
The game ended with the band playing “Happy Birthday,” and Kirby Smart tweeting out congratulations. But the first half made for a nerve-wracking birthday.
Fox saw a game in which his team won by nine despite not getting good games from a number of players, including Maten. (“Yante played awful. He didn’t play well,” Fox said. “I love him and he’s been playing great but he didn’t play well tonight.”) The bench only produced seven points. And it took a lot of shots going in from two players to overcome the rough first half
“I didn’t coach us well in the first half. We probably all took a half to wake up and start fighting back,” Fox said.
4. OGBEIDE FINALLY STARTS
Freshman center Derek Ogbeide, his career slowed by a preseason shoulder injury, was inserted into the starting lineup for the first time. It came after a series of strong performances in the post, but this time he was more quiet.
Ogbeide did have seven rebounds, which has become his calling card – he was averaging seven in Georgia’s first three conference games, despite limited minutes. But Ogbeide struggled on offense, scoring just three points while shooting 1-for-5 from the field.
“He’s been practicing well, so we put him in the lineup,” Fox said. “He didn’t have a great first half. But we thought he’d earned (the start).”
5. SURVIVE AND NOW TRY AGAIN
Georgia continues to avoid having a bad loss on its NCAA resume’. This would have qualified as one, coming at home to a team that entered 8-7 and ranked 95th in the RPI. (Georgia was 70th.)
But the Bulldogs, as evidenced by their own rank, still have a lot of work to do. They get another prime chance for a quality win on Saturday when Texas A&M visits.
Georgia’s cause was also helped by events elsewhere, as Clemson – which Georgia beat last month – knocked off Duke. That came four days after Georgia Tech, another team Georgia beat in the non-conference, upset Virginia.
But that likely won’t mean anything if the Bulldogs don’t start getting quality wins of their own. Fox said he hoped that there will be another strong crowd, after an announced crowd of 8,029 on Wednesday.
“What carried us tonight was our crowd,” Fox said. “We had our students back for the first time since I can remember, and our crowd lifted our team. Our crowd fought with us, and our crowd’s like, ‘we’re going to bring these guys back,’ and they did.”