ATHENS — Quick, name the SEC’s leader in field goal percentage.
Unless you said Georgia’s Chris Harrison, you were wrong.
Who is Chris Harrison? He’s a fifth-senior and walkon guard for the Bulldogs. And while he does, in fact, share the SEC lead for field-goal percentage — 100 percent — he does not meet the minimum requirements for official statistical recognition. That requirement is considerably higher than the 3-for-3 on Harrison’s ledger.
Doesn’t matter. Harrison is not playing for the Bulldogs for his offense. He’s playing because of his defense. At the moment, it’s he kind of defense Harrison brings on the perimeter is something Georgia needs more of as it prepares to host No. 19 LSU at Stegeman Coliseum on Saturday (6 p.m., SEC Network).
You might’ve noticed that the Tigers (20-4, 10-1) are coming off a 73-71 upset of No. 5 Kentucky. The Bulldogs (10-14, 1-10) just dropped their ninth straight SEC game at Texas A&M.
Which brings us back to Harrison, of all people. Georgia is obviously in the midst of a rebuilding year and is looking to fix a lot of things. One primary area of needed improvement is defense. Teams are shooting 42 percent against the Bulldogs, and that only goes up in SEC play (46.3).
It’s no coincidence that Harrison’s minutes have gone up lately, too. The 6-foot-4 guard from Stone Mountain has played at least two minutes in each of the last six games and as many as six minutes in others as Georgia coach Tom Crean is trying to insert some defensive intensity in the lineup, even if it is for only brief spans.
“He’s one of our tougher players,” Crean said. “He’s certainly one of our more athletic players. He’s got a grit to him. There’s a physicality to him. For some of the things he doesn’t do, he makes up for with those things because it’s very important to him. He adds an impact to our team.”
Offensively, defensively or otherwise, Georgia needs whatever impact it can get at this point. The Bulldogs are in danger of losing 10 SEC games in a row for the first time since 2009 when coach Dennis Felton was fired in late January.
Crean is in his first season with the Bulldogs. He succeeded Mark Fox, who was dismissed 11 months ago for not being able to lift the program higher than first-round exits from occasional postseason play. But Fox never endured a season like the one Crean is enduring.
Enter LSU, a team that Georgia managed to play one of its better game against on Jan. 23 in Baton Rouge. The Bulldogs actually out-scored the Tigers in the second half before LSU put it away late at the foul line, 92-82.
“They’re playing as well as any team in the league, and that says a lot the way Tennessee and Kentucky have been playing,” Crean said before the Bulldogs’ practice Friday. “The intensity level and the competitiveness they played with the other night was incredible.”
Particularly incredible for LSU as been its guard play. Sophomore Tremont Waters has proved to be one of the league’s best and is averaging 15.7 points a game. But it was his backcourt mate, Skylar Mays, who dribbled the length of the court to put up the missed shot that was ultimately tipped in for the win against Kentucky. Mays averages 13.3 points a game.
Georgia has been fairly unsettled in its backcourt. Turtle Jackson, Tyree Crump, Teshaun Hightower and Jordan Harris have all logged starts and each has seen their minutes fluctuate wildly over the course of the season. The sophomore Hightower and the junior Harris have been getting the nod lately.
But through it all there has been the regular presence of Harrison. A graduate of Atlanta’s Woodward Academy and one-time scholarship player at Troy, Harrison transferred to Georgia last year to finish up his career as a walkon. An academician pursuing dual-degrees in finance and real estate, Harrison knows his role on the team and pursues it with vigor.
“I’m out there for my defense and the energy I’m able to bring whenever they put me in,” Harrison said. “Sometimes it’s just in a lull or when the opposing team goes on a run. I think me bringing defensive energy helps and I think that’s at part of the reason I’m out there more and more.”
Harrison’s teammates don’t begrudge him for taking away minutes dues to his defensive prowess.
“Christian is a freak,” said Harris, who has started five games, including the last three. “He’s one of the most athletic guys I’ve ever seen. … His defense is unreal. He can do so many things, but his passion and effort is always 100. Everything’s always 100. He’s going to give it everything he’s got playing at his best ability and he definitely comes in to help us, especially guarding the ball. He’s a good ball defender.”
To date, Harrison’s contributions have come only when Georgia’s other guards need a rest or just aren’t getting the job done. His stellar offensive line notwithstanding, Harrison is not nearly as skilled an offensive player as the others are. But Crean has made it clear he has no qualms about playing a walkon over a scholarship player.
“There’s no difference,” he said. “People have different roles.”
The ideal would be for all of Georgia’s guards to play defense with the intensity that Harrison does.
They’ll need to on Saturday as the Bulldogs find themselves desperate to snap their losing streak.
“At this point in the season we have nothing to lose,” said sophomore Nicolas Claxton, one of only four Division I players leading his team in points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals. “We’re going to go out there and it give it our all and try to shock the world, really.”
Kind of like how Christian Harrison plays every day.