ATHENS – J.J. Frazier didn’t give away just how badly he exerted himself until after the postgame media session on Saturday night. After apologizing one more time for not getting the win, the senior guard got down from a stool and walked out of the room.
Except he needed help. Frazier’s body slumped as he walked down the aisle, a Georgia staffer reaching out to help. It didn’t appear to be a tangible injury. He was just exhausted.
“I’m proud of my teammates, man. They gave me everything they had. I gave them everything they had,” Frazier said. “We just fell up short.”
It’s the story of Georgia’s season, repeated again on Saturday night, this time with a twist. A very painful one.
Another game Georgia led in the final minute. Another game it lost that would have been a signature win, this time 82-77 to Kentucky. But this time it came after Yante Maten, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, suffered a knee injury just 95 seconds into the game.
“The best big man in the SEC didn’t play for 38 minutes, and we were right there to win the game,” Frazier said. “I’m disappointing by this more than anybody. But we gave it everything we had.”
Frazier did his part, scoring a season-high 36 points. But he also, along with junior forward Pape Diatta, may have rushed shots at the end. Diatta’s came first, a drive that was blocked away with 27 seconds left and the game tied. Kentucky subsequently took the lead. (Diatta said later he was hoping to draw a foul.)
Then Frazier, rather than hold for the last shot to force overtime or win, drove and missed a jumper with 14 seconds left. Frazier said he “got bumped a little bit,” but no foul was called.
Frazier didn’t have any regrets about shooting when he did.
“I went when I saw I had a crease in the defense,” Frazier said. “I got to my spot that I work on. I just missed it.”
But he said he also apologized to his teammates.
“I wasn’t clutch when I needed to be,” Frazier said. “But they know how much I love them.”
Head coach Mark Fox also took responsibility. This added to the collection of late leads Georgia has blown this year: It also led at Florida and at Kentucky in the final minute, the 9-point blown lead at Texas A&M.
It’s why Georgia is a disappointing 15-12 overall and 6-8 in SEC play, in what was supposed to be an NCAA tournament season.
“We’ve been close. And I haven’t been able to get us over the hump in those,” Fox said. “So put the blame right here. Our kids have competed hard and don’t what I’ve asked him to do. And those situations like today, that’s on me.”
Now the season is essentially on hold, waiting to find out Maten’s status. Georgia has four games left, two on the road (Alabama and Arkansas) it would be the underdog either way, and two at home (LSU and Auburn) it would be the favorite.
What can this team do if its best player misses any or all of those games? Frazier did his best to be defiant.
“You saw today we can win without him,” Frazier said. “So for us, it’s a next-man mentality.”
That was Frazier on Saturday night. And he was spectacular. But in a Georgia season summed up by one phrase – close but not enough – this game played out that way too.