ATHENS – Five things we learned from Georgia’s 77-59 win over Missouri Wednesday night.
1. MISSOURI: THE CURE-ALL
This was never really close. Georgia jumped out to a 10-0 lead, shook off some brief rallies to lead by 13 at halftime, and led by as many as 23 before easing up on its overmatched SEC opponent.
Last year when Missouri came in here, Georgia head coach Mark Fox got his largest margin of victory in an SEC game, by 24. This one could have exceeded that, but the Bulldogs cleared the bench in the last few minutes. Yante Maten, the team’s best player early in the game, only played 23 minutes.
“I thought we played pretty complete basketball tonight,” Fox said.
For Georgia (now 8-4 overall and 1-1 in the SEC), this game was all about avoiding a bad loss on its NCAA resume’. So far the Bulldogs lack a good quality win, so the last thing they need is something on the bad side of the ledger. This would have qualified: Missouri is 7-6, had an RPI rank of 147 entering the day, and looked like a team that will continue to slide.
Three of Georgia’s four losses have come to teams that are currently in the top 50 of the RPI: Florida (22), Chattanooga (33) and Seton Hall (40), while Kansas State (67) isn’t far out.
2. FOX’S MINI-TIRADE
It happened one game after Georgia dropped its SEC opener at Florida, in a game it led only in the first minute. Fox came to Wednesday’s postgame media session with something to say about that.
“You know, you guys frustrated me a little bit yesterday because every one of you acted like we should cancel basketball because we got beat on the road at Florida,” Fox said, his voice rising. “They got a good team. They got a good team. And they beat us. And we went down there and we played hard. We didn’t play well, because they beat us and so every game’s gonna be hard.
“Tonight was hard, and we gotta put this one to bed, just like the last one we put to bed, and come back to play. Because in this league there’s a lot of good basketball teams. And you don’t have to win them all. And you’re not gonna win them all, because there’s just too many good teams. And we came into the game tonight with the right approach.”
3. A STAR KEEPS RISING
Georgia’s half-court offense is increasingly going through Maten, and he’s making it pay off. While he only finished with 15 points it was a very efficient 15: He had 11 of those in the first 10 minutes, and only missed one shot all game.
“Yante has been what I think is the best post player in the conference,” Georgia senior guard Charles Mann said after the game.
The 6-foot-8 sophomore has good touch on his shots, swishing short turnaround jumpers and banking in others. His comfort in creating those shots is also improving, as he’s clearly becoming more aware of what he needs to do to get in good position.
“I was good at it my freshman year too. I wasn’t as confident in it as I am now,” Maten said.
“Yante’s, I think, understanding where his shots come from,” Fox said. “I don’t think we did a very good job of getting him the ball tonight, but obviously there’s a lot of 3-point shots because he’s drawing extra attention. He’s drawing an extra defender, or a half of a defender, down there so there’s extra 3-point shots available because Yante’s been so productive.”
Maten was also 3-for-3 from the free throw line, improving his season free throw percentage to 78, among the best on the team.
Georgia was particularly reliant on Maten in the first half on Saturday. He had seven points in the first three-and-a-half minutes, then subbed out for a break. The Bulldogs, not coincidentally, cooled off and Maten was subbed back in. Soon the lead was back in double digits.
“It’s later in the year, so we understand out roles. He’s a big part of that,” J.J. Frazier said of Maten. “We understand that if we throw it inside and they leave him one-on-one, that’s the shot that we’ll take every time. If they double, he’s a willing passer.”
4. WAIT, WHAT, OFFENSE?
Georgia’s 45-point outburst in the first half was its most in a half this season. And that was with nobody except Maten scoring for a span of 7 minutes and 39 seconds. (Of course Maten had 11 points during that span.)
Georgia shot 56 percent from the field, 58 percent on 3-pointers, and hardly even needed to get to the free throw line, going 8-for-10 there.
And if the Bulldogs hadn’t turned it over 16 times, they easily would have exceeded their previous season high of 90 points.
Georgia came in averaging 70.7 points a game.
5. FRAZIER REBOUNDS TOO
Figuratively and literally. One game after struggling to find open shots, Frazier was open a lot and scored a lot, finishing with 16 points, 12 of those from beyond the arc.
Frazier also had six rebounds, and the 5-foot-10 junior somehow remains the team’s second-leading rebounder of the season, averaging nearly five a game.
On Saturday at Florida, Georgia didn’t make a 3-pointer until the 14:32 mark of the second half. This time it hit two in the first minute, by Frazier and then Kenny Gaines. It was a sign. The Bulldogs made 8 of their first 12 shots from beyond the arc, including 6-for-8 in the first half, and that was all it took.
Even Mann, not known for his outside shot, made 2 of 3 beyond the arc. The reason for all this? They were open looks. It appeared Georgia worked in the past few days on its half-court offense. But it also helped that Missouri’s help defense just wasn’t very good.