ATHENS — Georgia basketball coach Tom Crean finally got some relief on Saturday.
It has been a challenging first half of the season for Crean, who is in his first year coaching the Bulldogs.
Georgia (10-9) showed it’s making strides under Crean’s leadership and coaching, topping Texas 98-88 in the SEC-Big 12 Challenge before a sold-out crowd at Stegeman Coliseum.
Crean said Bulldogs football coach Kirby Smart, who brought some of the top football recruits in the nation to the game, was among the first to send a congratulatory text.
Yes, Georgia basketball beat the Longhorns where Kirby could not beat Texas in the Sugar Bowl with UGA missing its top defensive back, linebacker and defensive lineman.
But the bigger picture was how Crean’s team ignited the 10,374 fans on hand to create an electric environment.
The fast-paced play, although sometimes sloppy, was entertaining and featured historic shooting accuracy.
“The mental part of it with the mindset, knowing that when we’re moving without the ball, when we’re cutting, when we’re playing with five people consistently, the ball is not stopping, our offense can get a lot better,” Crean said. “When they’re moving like that, that’s a strong sense of what we want it to be, what it’s going to look like in the future.”
Spacing and cutting are two of teaching points Crean preaches most.
Texas coach Shaka Smart said he knew what to expect from a Crean-coached team coming into the game.
“They started the game doing a great job with their cutting, that was a point of emphasis, they do a good job spacing the floor and cutting to the basketball,” Smart said. “When they shoot the ball like that, they will be a heck of a team.”
Georgia’s shot 66.7-percent from the floor, its best effort in nearly 15 years, and the fourth-best in school history.
The Bulldogs hit seven consecutive 3-point attempts during a pivotal 17-2 run in the first half. Georgia finished 12-of-17 beyond the arc — third-best in school history.
Tyree Crump, who scored a game-high 21 points and connected on 6 of 8 attempts from 3-point range, talked about the importance of the sharp cuts.
“We cut well which opened up a lot of shots for us,” Crump said. “They were focused in on me which really opened things up for our post players.”
Georgia returns to action on Tuesday night at Arkansas.
The Bulldogs have had an unmerciful league slate to start the season, playing six teams ranked in the Top 50 of the NCAA (NET) rankings in going 1-5 in the SEC.
Crean said it’s not like there will be that much drop off the remainder of the season.
“It’s not like we can look and say, ‘oh, wow, we’re through the gauntlet,’ “ Crean said. “Every night it is on in this league.”
Crean returned to Michigan after the game to attend his mother’s funeral on Sunday. Marjorie Crean passed away on Jan. 17 after a long illness.
Georgia basketball coach Tom Crean