ATHENS — This was a game Georgia basketball needed as badly as it has needed a game in quite some time. The players’ confidence was shaken, the coach was under increasing fire, and the season was in danger of getting away.
The Bulldogs needed this one. And they got it, at least for now rescuing their season with an impressive 72-60 win over No. 23 Florida. It was Georgia’s first win over Florida in three years.
“We just knew our backs were against the wall,” said Georgia freshman forward Nicolas Claxton, whose effort was key in the win. “We knew we were on a losing course, and we needed that win to boost our confidence and get back on the right track.”
It was a vital win for UGA (13-8, 4-5 SEC), which came after the Bulldogs had lost four of their past six games. They got the win over Florida (15-7, 6-3 SEC) with the Bulldogs getting an all-around effort it had lacked for weeks. Yante Maten led the team as usual, but the team got big performances from Claxton, shooting guard Tyree Crump, point guard Turtle Jackson and others.
“That was one of the biggest things that got us the win tonight, was the bench. It was real spread out,” Maten said. “I was off the first half, and the rest of the team stepped up, and helped me out when I was struggling. That’s what teams are for.”
It may be too early to call it a turning point, but UGA put itself back into NCAA Tournament consideration, getting another win over an RPI top-50 team. For all its struggles, Georgia now has five wins over RPI top-50 teams. The Bulldogs, who entered the night ranked 62nd, should now move up as it heads into the second half of the SEC schedule.
3 who mattered
- Claxton: The Georgia freshman had a superb game off the bench, first by grabbing 4 offensive rebounds in the first half, then by showing his all-around game. He blocked 3 shots, nailed a 3-pointer from the top of the key, and hit a key layup to put Georgia ahead in the second half. Claxton finished with a game-high 8 rebounds.
- Maten: A good sign for Georgia was it led at halftime despite an underwhelming first half from its senior leader, who was only 3-for-9 from the floor. But he got going in the second half, hitting 4-of-5 four shots from the floor. He finished with a team-high 20 points.
- Tyree Crump: The sophomore guard bolstered the argument that he should play more, hitting two 3s in the first half to spark Georgia’s 12-2 run. Georgia went from trailing by four when Crump came in to leading by five. After the game, Crump said he was playing with the “Mamba mentality,” meaning Kobe Bryant.
- Georgia’s rally midway through the second half, after Florida had moved out to a 44-39 lead, was critical. Claxton hit a 3 from the top of the key, and then Jordan Harris made a driving layup to tie it at 48-48. As the Gators went cold shooting, the Bulldogs hit key shots, including a Maten hook shot while being fouled. He made the free throw, Georgia led 55-51, and didn’t trail again.
- Quicker offense: There was more life to Georgia when it had the ball, with good ball movement and players moving around. That has been a big problem during the team’s struggles.
- Florida’s cold shooting: Sometimes it’s good defense, sometimes the other team just goes cold. Either way, Florida went very cold for a long time in the second half, missing 15 shots in a row, most of them 3-pointers. After hitting their first five shots of the second half, they were just 3-for24 shooting from there.
- Georgia plays at Mississippi State on Saturday at 6 p.m. ET It’s the first of two straight road games, and four out of six games away from Stegeman Coliseum.
What they said
- “Energy. He has energy on the bench, he has energy off the bench. He’s a high-motor, high energy guy.” — Maten on Claxton.
- “(Yante Maten) can make a 10-foot hook shot look like a layup.” — Florida coach Mike White.
- “It was Crump in the first half, who really has been so diligent in trying to improve on his weaknesses. And trying to really have a better understanding of what we’re doing. He really has an unbelievable attitude. And guys like that, usually the game is fair and they get rewarded.” — Georgia coach Mark Fox.
- “It’s about trying to beat the best teams. it’s about getting quality wins. The last two years we’ve been right on the bubble. … In this league, there’s going to be some losses, because the league is so stinking good. The league is so good that there’s going to be losses along the way. You just have to win your share and keep grinding.” — Fox when asked about the state of the team.