Georgia basketball coach Tom Crean says there are no moral victories, but at the very least, his Bulldogs put on a whale of a show in Hawaii on Tuesday.
“Georgia basketball is going to be a high-level program,” Crean said on his radio show after the game. “Today was a step toward our guys understanding a little bit closer of what that’s going to take.”
Georgia lost to No. 3-ranked Michigan State 93-85 in the consolation bracket of the Maui Jim Maui Invitational. UGA closes the tourney at 9 p.m. on Wednesday against Division ll Chaminade (ESPNU).
Some fans will tune in just to see 6-foot-5 Anthony “Antman” Edwards, who scored 33 of his 37 points in spectacular fashion over the final 16 minutes of the game against Michigan State.
“As impressive as what Anthony did with the scoring, I’m far more impressed with the spirit and the energy, I’m more impressed with the 14 deflections, I’m more impressed with the way the ball was pushed,” Crean said. “And when our team, when Anthony and Sahvir (Wheeler) figure out how good we can be running, throwing the ball ahead, rim running the way that we did, we’ll get a lot more confidence in our game.”
Edwards, a freshman projected among the top 5 picks in the 2020 NBA Draft, deflected all praise to his teammates and head coach.
“We’ve got great players all out there on the floor and Coach is a great coach,” Edwards said, per the Maui Invitational press conference transcript. “So we just play and do what he tells us to do and let the chips fall where they may.”
Another day in paradise had started out as another dose of reality for the Bulldogs against Hall of Fame coach Tom Izzo and his grizzled Spartans. The Big Ten powerhouse built a 52-31 halftime lead that swelled to 28 points in the second half.
But that’s when Crean said he saw Edwards step up in a fashion he’d not seen before. The team responded, cutting the lead to 2 points on a Rayshaun Hammonds bucket with just under 5 minutes left.
“(Edwards) was feeling it, and that’s the first time I’ve been around him when he feels it like that,” Crean said. “This is the first time he’s really understood, ‘I can attack that defense in the fast-break situation.’ “
Edwards, who declared in the preseason his goal is to bring Georgia basketball back, made it clear he just wanted to win the game.
“I don’t really care about what people think I should do on court, I just play for my team,” Edwards said. “I’ve always been a team player. My team’s always behind me.
“I think we learned that we got a great group of guys, tough, just being tenacious rebounders no matter what, just playing hard.”
Crean said the hardest game of the tournament will be the Wednesday night game with host Chaminade, as UGA used up a great deal of energy in Tuesday’s comeback.
But the trip has already served its purpose, even with the 80-61 loss to Dayton on Monday and Tuesday’s defeat.
“We got better, that’s the thing,” Crean said. “I’ve coached long enough that it’s hard to justify a moral victory, but we learned about ourselves today.”
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