ATHENS — Well, at least there’s that attendance thing.
The Georgia Bulldogs set the school’s all-time attendance mark with another big crowd at Stegeman Coliseum Wednesday night. But what they witnessed was another loss as the Bulldogs fell 78-75 to an Auburn team fighting for an NCAA bid.
The loss was a record 13th in a row in SEC play for the Bulldogs (10-18, 1-14 SEC) and matches their most conference losses in a season since they went 2-14 in 2005. With their second win over Georgia this season, the Tigers improve to 19-9 overall and 8-7 in league play.
It was the third consecutive last-possession loss for the Bulldogs and they’ve dropped their last four games by a total of nine points.
“We’ve had numerous opportunities to win at the end,” Georgia’s first-year coach Tom Crean said. “These guys have done a tremendous job of being connected, staying together, coming back in these games. We’ve got to do a better job in the beginning and the middle.”
Indeed, Georgia stuck to the formula that has kept it in this record rut this year. That is, they played recklessly with the ball early, committed a lot of turnovers and fell behind by as many as 14 points in the first half. But as is usually also the case, the Bulldogs fought and clawed their way back into the game.
It even looked for a time like Georgia might pull this one out. With an energetic crowd of 7,837 on their feet, the Bulldogs pulled ahead by one point three times in the final 10 minutes and were tied at 75-all after Nicolas Claxton made a 3-pointer with 54.1 seconds to play.
But following back-to-back blocked shots by Derek Ogbeide and Claxton that left Auburn with only :03 on the shot clock and 27.1 seconds remaining in the game, Auburn managed to get the ball inbounded to Chuma Okeke on the left wing, and he drained a long, fall-away 3-pointer for what would end up as the final margin of the game.
The Bulldogs lost control of the ball briefly on its final possession as they whipped passes and dribbled around the perimeter. Tyree Crump finally gathered up a loose ball near the time line, but too late to get off a decent shot. His desperation 3-pointer heave fell woefully short at the final horn.
“In the pressure of the moment, most guys dial 3,” said junior Jordan Harris, who led Georgia with a career-high 18 points. “The smartest play probably would’ve been to get the ball inside, use the bonus or, you never know, we could’ve gotten an ‘and 1.’ So many things could’ve happened.”
Auburn got 22 points from Jared Harper and 13 from Okeke. Both players are Atlanta residents.
Claxton had 14 and Derek Ogbeide and Turtle Jackson added 13 each for Georgia, which shot 52.9 percent for the game and made 9-of-21 3-pointers. But the Bulldogs were undone by second-chance points, as Auburn out-scored them 19-4 on that front.
Georgia had trail throughout until the Derek Ogbeide Show broke out in the middle of the second half. His two layups with a steal in between capped an 11-0 run over 5:07 to force Auburn to call a timeout at the 11:55 mark with the Bulldogs trailing by one. The senior forward wasn’t through. After blocking an Auburn shot, Ogbeide scored on another layup to give the Bulldogs a 58-57 lead, their first since being ahead 13-12 in the first half.
The teams traded baskets for the next five minutes before Auburn pushed ahead by six with 5:00 to go. That’s when Georgia made its last, furious push.
“It was a great win for our program,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “Tom has breathed life and energy into Georgia. He just happens to have come in the league when it’s probably the best it’s ever been. … I’ll tell you what, guys. It’s hard to keep your locker room when you’re losing this many. He has his locker room. His kids are still bought in, they’re still competing, they’re still playing hard. That’s really hard to do.”
Georgia already had its hands full facing an Auburn team that beat it by 15 on the Plains on Jan. 12. Then it was determined that Rayshaun Hammonds would be unable to play. The Bulldogs’ No. 2 scorer injured his right foot against Ole Miss last Saturday, but it had worsened to the point doctors decided he should rest it. With three games left in the regular season, he’s c0nsidered day-to-day now.
The good news is Georgia broke the school record for all-time attendance at Stegeman Coliseum with still one more home game to go. In total, 141,520 fans have attended 16 games this season, breaking the previous mark of 139,570 over 19 games in the 2015-16. The average attendance of 8,845 is third overall and the best since 2002-03 when they drew 9,857 per contest.
The Bulldogs play host to Missouri next Wednesday in what will likely be its best bid to get another win this season. In the meantime, they have to go to Florida on Saturday and close the season at South Carolina on March 9.
Unless they can win another game somewhere, Georgia is in position to record its worst SEC record since Ken Rosemond’s 1973-74 team went 2-16.