ATHENS – Five things we learned as Georgia beat Murray State 63-52 on Friday night at Stegeman Coliseum:
1. The Kenny Gaines show
Georgia avoided a second straight home loss to start the season. Or, to put it more accurately, Kenny Gaines avoided it.
The senior shooting guard poured in a career-high 35 points, including three 3s on three straight possessions late in the game, giving the Bulldogs the lead for good. They held on for a 63-52 win over Murray State.
“Coach kept telling me to shoot, teammates kept giving me the ball, so I just wanted to capitalize on it,” Gaines said.
Georgia was trailing 50-48 with four minutes left when Gaines, already carrying the team basically by himself, wrested control of the game. He hit a shot from about 23 feet to give Georgia the lead, then another from the corner, and finally rolled in a 3 from the top off the key.
“I don’t know, I kind of just was feeling it,” Gaines said in a severe understatement. ” I knew we needed a bucket so might as well keep throwing it up there if it was gonna go in.”
Gaines made 55 percent of his field goals and 50 percent of his 3s. The rest of his team made 18 percent of its field goals and 1 of 8 attempts from beyond the arc.
Gaines was probably making up for playing time he lost in the Chattanooga game. He was in foul trouble throughout and only played 16 minutes, still finishing with 12 points before fouling out with more than five minutes left in regulation. (The fact he only attempted three free throws, out of 45 for his team, also hurt the Bulldogs in that loss.)
That wasn’t an issue on Friday. The problem was the rest of the team.
Charles Mann missed all seven of his shots from the field, and went 2-for-4 from the line. J.J. Frazier was 1-for-10 from the field. Georgia only had nine points in the paint.
But in the end Gaines proved to be enough.
“Obviously when he has a hot hand he has a green light for us. He’s been a very good player for us,” Georgia coach mark Fox said. “He just felt so bad about the first game because when you foul out in just 16 minutes then you can’t really help your team. He felt awful.”
2. Struggling in the paint
Georgia was dominant in the post on one end: Defense. The other end was a completely different story, as the post players missed a number of close shots.
Georgia was only credited with nine points in the paint. Yante Maten, the team’s best post player, was 2-for-8 from the field. Mike Edwards, the 6-foot-9 athletic freshman, was 1-for-5. This came despite being much bigger than Murray State, which compensated by guarding closer in the paint, according to Fox.
“They packed it in, and so Yante didn’t get a lot of great looks,” Fox said. “But when you pack it in you’re gonna some open 3s, and fortunately Kenny shot some.”
Maten, Edwards and the Bulldogs were excellent rebounding the ball, which with Murray State missing so many shots. Maten pulled in a game-high 10 rebounds, and Edwards and Houston Kessler each had eight.
“I just didn’t feel the ball well tonight,” Maten said. “I think I was probably trying to do a little too much, instead of just turning it up and trying to get myself with a wiggle to the basket. But I’ll fix that.”
3. Three-point defense improves
Georgia’s 3-point defense was much better, thanks to the renewed emphasis on it in practice this week. After giving up 12 shots beyond the arc in the loss to Chattanooga, Fox told his players to move their feet better on defense, and they appeared to take it to heart. Murray State didn’t make its first 3 until the 4:44 mark of the first half. The Racers added two more to briefly take the lead, but that spurt proved an anomaly.
Murray State finished the game 4-for-22 from beyond the arc.
“Our defense was better tonight,” Fox said. “You can imagine what our practices were like this week. And we made progress.”
4. Free throw shooting improves too
In its game preview notes, Georgia’s sports information department reported that the 63 combined fouls between Georgia and Chattanooga is “likely the most ever” in a Bulldogs basketball game.
This one didn’t equal that, but it also didn’t have overtime. There were 44 total fouls, with the visiting team battling foul trouble throughout.
Georgia was 21-for-29 from the line, a much better percentage than its 27-for-45 showing against Chattanooga. Gaines and Frazier accounted for most of the success, going 13-for-16, but Maten (3-for-6) and Mann (2-for-4) still have some work to do.
The fact Gaines got to the line 10 times, versus just three in the Chattanooga game, may have had a lot to do with the different percentages in each game.
5. Failure to put away
Murray State (2-1) has become a perennial NCAA tournament bid contender and has a good chance to win its conference again this season. So playing a close game is nothing for Georgia to be ashamed about.
Still, poor shooting cost Georgia two chances to essentially put the game away earlier: In the first half Murray State missed 14 straight field goals over a nearly 12-minute span. The Bulldogs did take a 10-point lead, but it could’ve been much more, and that left the visitors room to briefly take back the lead.
Early in the second half the Racers hit another rough stretch, going 1-for-10 from the floor. But Georgia’s biggest lead in that span was eight.
“They’re a good team, despite us being a little bit bigger than them they kept fighting, kept battling,” Gaines said. “That’s kinda the tradition of their school, the tradition of their team. They did their job, we’re just thankful we could score a couple more buckets than them.”