NASHVILLE – It went from easy to tense very quickly. It still ended the way the Georgia men’s basketball team needed it to: A victory to keep its season alive.
Georgia held off Mississippi State, 79-69, at Bridgestone Arena, advancing UGA to a quarterfinal matchup with South Carolina on Friday.
Georgia (18-12 overall) will have to keep winning to have any shot at an NCAA tournament bid. So this was a necessary first step, one the Bulldogs took with considerable effort down the stretch, but still ended with a fourth straight win.
“Mississippi State planned to extend their season,” Georgia head coach Mark Fox said. “I thought we did some things well in the first half. I thought we completely lost our concentration once we got a double-figure lead, didn’t handle that very well. But certainly good to win and live another day.”
Here are five observations from the game:
1. FRAZIER’S SHOT-MAKING
On a day when other guards had big games, it was J.J. Frazier’s turn. The only difference was his team won.
Earlier in the day Arkansas’ Dusty Hannah scored 33 points, and Ole Miss’ Stefan Moody had 39. Both of their teams lost.
Frazier would not share that fate. The junior guard had a game-high 28 points, leading the way again for his team.
After a quiet start, as had been his wont lately, Frazier got hot and shot Georgia into the lead, making two 3s during a 12-0 run. He kept it going to start the second half, hitting a spot-up 3 with a man in his face, then a 3 from the top of the key to make it 53-41.
Frazier made 4 of his first 6 3s. He went quiet for a long stretch – as did his team, letting Mississippi State back in it – but then hit a key basket to stem the run, and free throws to help seal it.
“He’s been doing it all season long,” senior guard Kenny Gaines said.
2. KPG COMES UP BIG
Georgia hasn’t been used to much bench help, but Kenny Paul Geno had some huge moments down the stretch.
The junior forward finished the game with eight rebounds, many of them in the waning minutes, helping Georgia stave off a late run.
“I looked at the scoreboard and saw we’re only up four, so I better get these rebounds,” Geno said. “Yante has gotta handle Gavin Ware in the post, and try to block him out. So I was just trying to hit and release and get the ball real quick.”
Geno came into the game averaging 2.8 rebounds per game. But even at 6-foot-6 and 210 pounds, he ended up playing power forward for much of the stretch, using his athleticism to grab loose balls.
3. MANN UP
Charles Mann is finishing his career by playing pretty solid ball.
Despite picking up his third foul early in the second half, Mann kept driving to the basket, drawing fouls and hitting free throws. He had 12 points, half of them at the free throw line. He also had four rebounds and four assists, and helped calm the team when MSU went to a full-court press.
Mann’s scoring, along with Frazier, helped make up for a quiet game from Gaines, who was held to 10 points on 2-of-14 shooting from the field.
4. MATEN AND STRATEGY
This time Mississippi State had a plan for Yante Maten, who torched MSU (25 points) in the Starkville game. When Maten got the ball in the post, he was doubled every time. That actually played right into the hands of Georgia. Since UGA has lacked a consistent scoring threat from all five players, there haven’t been the driving opportunities that create layups or pass-outs for 3s. When Maten was double-teamed that opened things up.
“I think it did, because when they double-teamed me I tried to pass it out quick, because that means someone’s open,” Maten said.
Maten also played very in control, rarely turning it over and not throwing up bad shots. Maten finished with 20 points and eight rebounds.
“I didn’t know it was coming with that intensity, because when they double-teamed they double-teamed hard,” Maten said. “But I think to myself I’m a pretty good passer.”
5. THREE KEY STRETCHES
The first one: Georgia took control midway through the first half with a 12-0 run, which included a pair of 3s from Frazier. Then the run continued, with Georgia at one point making 9 of 11 shots from the floor, and one of those misses was rebounded by Kenny Paul Geno, who passed out to Maten for a 3 that made it 40-29. It continued into the second half, and Georgia took its biggest lead, 57-41, on a Maten layup.
The next one: While Mississippi State drained 3s, Georgia’s offense went silent. The press flummoxed UGA, which turned it over near its own basket and couldn’t get open shots on the other side. Georgia went through a scoreless drought that lasted just over four minutes. It ended when Mann rolled in a runner at the 5:30 mark, the team’s first field goal in just over six minutes.
“We kind of let up off the gas a little bit, which is something we’ve done in the past,” Gaines said. “We found a way to maintain somewhat of a lead at the end. Just made sure we did the little things to finish out strong.”
“You knew that a team that could end their season in the game would come storming back, especially with the seniorst hat they have,” Fox said. “So we talked at the timeout about, let’s just recompose ourselves and get back to playing with some stability.”
The final stretch: Georgia got some critical stops and rebounds, and a Frazier basket made it a six-point game with just over two minutes left.
“We know how to maintain and close games out a little better,” Gaines said. “We learned from those close losses that we did have, and it’s just a testament to our team getting better.”