TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – J.J. Frazier leaned his back against the wall, his left leg propped up on the wall. He looked at his phone, scrolling through something, not writing anything. He was alone. He was silent.
It had been a few minutes since Frazier willed and carried his Georgia basketball team to a road upset at Alabama, 60-55. One of Georgia’s two stars, forward Yante Maten, had stayed home as he nursed a badly sprained knee.
Frazier, the remaining star, somehow filled the void. All 5 feet and 10 inches of him, as far as program heights go, pouring in 28 points, including the critical baskets and free throws down the stretch.
People would have expected this Georgia team to fold by now. Their leading scorer injured and uncertain to return this season. Their coach on the hot seat. So many close, gut-wrenching losses.
What’s going on inside that locker room, Frazier was asked after Thursday night’s win?
“They don’t really know our coach and they don’t know our team,” Frazier said of those who expected this team to wilt. “The people who are really for us know we’re not going to ever quit, that’s not who we are, that’s never been our identity. That’s what’s going on in our locker room. We’re some tough dudes.”
One dude seems tougher than everybody else. But it’s also true that he’s not doing it completely alone.
Derek Ogbeide, the sophomore forward and now the team’s top post player, chipped in 7 points and nine rebounds. Juwan Parker, the junior small forward, had nine points and the game-sealing rebound. Freshman Tyree Crump came off the bench and drained two 3s early in the second half, after Alabama had whittled it to a two-point game.
“These young guys late in the year have kind of hit the wall and worn down. But we needed some scoring punch there, and Tyree’s a great shooter,” head coach Mark Fox said. “He’s been practicing very well. And he’s got a good guy to learn from every day in J.J. Frazier.”
Well yes, it still comes back to Frazier. He hit the big shots – a running scoop layup, a breakaway layup after a strip steal – and the big free throws, after driving and being fouled with 50 seconds left.
Alabama head coach Avery Johnson told his team that Frazier, who struggled last month when Alabama won by 20 in Athens, had too much pride and was going to come out firing. He was right. Frazier kept hitting big shots despite everyone in the building seemingly knowing he was about to take the shot.
How, exactly, Parker was asked?
“He’s in the gym, he’s constantly watching film to see what teams do to him, offensively and defensively,” Parker said. “So it’s never surprising for him.”
It all leads to this question: How is Georgia actually not only surviving, but somehow playing better without Maten?
It wasn’t just this game. The Bulldogs also closed out the win at Tennessee two weeks ago after Maten fouled out with several minutes left. And they nearly knocked off Kentucky on Saturday.
“I mean, Yan doesn’t make every play, Yan doesn’t make every rebound,” Frazier said. “That’s why we’re a team. I mean we’re confident without him. We practice without him on the floor. So that’s why we’re good without him.”
But don’t anyone get the wrong idea.
“We did pretty good, but you obviously want Yante back,” Frazier said. “We’re going to hold it down as much as we can without him.”