ATHENS — Tom Crean knew his team would have a fight on its hands against the SEC’s top scoring offense on Saturday night.
But he didn’t know until just hours before tipoff if Georgia would have its best player available.
Freshman Anthony Edwards overcame flu-like symptoms, but the Bulldogs couldn’t stop Alabama, falling 105-102 in overtime at Stegeman Coliseum.
“I felt weak, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to make too many jump shots,” Edwards said after playing 36 minutes and recording his third double-double of the season with 14 points and 12 rebounds.
“I was real tired around the 3-minute mark in the second half … I just dug deep and found some energy, I guess.”
But not quite enough energy. Edwards’ potential game-tying 3-point shot was off the mark at the buzzer in overtime, leaving him 0-for-6 from 3-point range and sending the Bulldogs to their sixth loss in the past seven games.
Crean, in his second year leading the Georgia program, recognizes he’s in the middle of a complete rebuild with 10 new players on the roster this season, including nine freshmen.
“We’re close,” Crean said. “I’ve been a part of, this is the third program rebuild, and we have a lot of young guys. It’s not an excuse, it’s a fact.
“We have to guard the ball better. That becomes more of an individual pride. That just has to happen.”
Neither team was proficient guarding the rim. Alabama scored 56 points in the paint and Georgia had 58.
Crean said Edwards is as close as Georgia has to a lockdown defender. But he wasn’t even sure about Edwards’ playing status after the projected NBA lottery pick missed Friday’s practice on account of his illness.
“Anthony didn’t feel good, at all,” said Crean, himself hoarse the past few days and on antibiotics.
“We didn’t know until this afternoon that he’d be able to play. Did he have his normal joy and energy? No.”
Alabama, however, had its normal SEC-leading offense shifted into high gear. The Tide set a school record for points in a road game led by Kira Lewis Jr.’s 37 points.
Georgia rallied from 45-41 to lead by as many as 12 points in the second half. But for the third time in the past four games, the Bulldogs were unable to hold a double-digit lead.
“We’ve got to learn how to win,” Crean said. “You get in these situations, like Missouri, or Florida ….. we’ve got to have leadership on the court emerge.”
Freshman points guard Sahvir Wheeler stepped up on Saturday, scoring a career-high 24 points and dishing out 8 assists.
“We’re getting better day by day,” Wheeler said. “I know our guys believe in each other, and we’re trying to get better day by day.”
Georgia returns to action at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday at Stegeman Coliseum against South Carolina. The Gamecocks (14-8, 6-4) are coming off a 74-54 home win over Texas A&M on Saturday.