ATHENS — This was arguably the best 24 hours for Georgia basketball in some time: First came the commitment from a five-star recruit. Then came a win that should help the current team’s cause for the NCAA tournament.
Temple was ranked No. 12 in the RPI when it came into Stegeman Coliseum on Friday afternoon. But Georgia won in a rout, 84-66, leading by as many as 23, and never less than 14 in the second half.
Georgia thus enters SEC regular-season play in pretty good shape: A 9-2 record, with three wins over teams with a chance to finish in the RPI top 50 (Temple, St. Mary’s and Marquette) and two true road wins. It’s also unbeaten at home so far.
And in this one, Yante Maten again led the way.
THREE WHO MATTERED
Maten: The senior had a season-high 30 points, along with 12 rebounds. He didn’t necessarily need to carry his team, which got contributions from all over. But Maten played the way a top player needs to in a big game.
Turtle Jackson: Georgia’s starting point guard played the second-most minutes, and with a steady hand, helping Georgia commit just nine turnovers, its second-least of the season. And when Temple began to inch back in the second half he hit a 3 and then a pull-up jumper to push the lead back to 19.
Nicolas Claxton: The freshman forward had 14 points and nine rebounds. Key baskets included a tip-back at the halftime buzzer, and a thunderous two-handed dunk late in the game that brought the crowd to its feet.
Georgia dominated on the glass, 38-20, with a 32-13 edge at one point. UGA coach Mark Fox went with tall lineups, nullifying a Temple starting front line that went 6-10, 6-10 and 6-8.
It was actually close in the early minutes, with both teams struggling to make anything. Then Georgia put together a 9-0 run, and soon had a 17-9 lead, with baskets by six different UGA players. The lead gradually grew from there.
For Temple, this may have been the reverse of what Georgia encountered last week, when it went north to UMass, started terribly and could never come back. Fox began his postgame remark by pointing that out: “I’m not sure as they were as sharp maybe as they’d been playing. And I don’t want to take anything away from our kid’s defensive efforts. But it’s really hard to do what they tried to do today. And they have an excellent team.”
Georgia sophomore guard Tyree Crump didn’t play for the first time this season. Fox said afterwards it was simply because the 6-2 Crump didn’t fit in the gameplan – which was aimed at putting more length on the floor to match up with Temple. E’Torrion Wilrdige (6-7) E’Torrion Wilridge started for the first time in six games, with Juwan Parker (6-3) coming off the bench. Fox said Crump’s attitude about not playing was great: “He didn’t have a cross eye about it. He cares most about winning. And the same thing with Juwan. I told him: I’m not starting you. (He said): ‘Whatever we need to do to win.’ That’s what I love about these guys.”
WHAT THEY SAID
Maten on the team: “It’s been contributions from everyone on the team. It’s very spread out. I think everyone is finding a role on the team, and they’re happy with it. It’s trusting coach Fox and what he’s assigned us to do.”
Claxton on his game: “It felt great. It just built my confidence back up. It felt great. … (Asked if the game fit his skills). “Yeah, it was good. I could use my length to affect the game.”
Maten on the non-conference season: “Just me being here the past couple years, we’ve had some bad losses in the non-conference. Coach Fox has explained that to us, I’ve explained that to the team. Where we want to go we have to make sure that we win a lot of these, if not all of these non-conference games.”
Fox on the team entering SEC play: “We’ve played well enough to keep ourselves in the race. Now are we in lane 8, 7, 6, I don’t know. But we’ve got some quality wins, including one today, and we’ve put ourselves in position to keep playing for something. And now we’ve got a chance to hit the reset button heading into league play.”
Georgia opens play with on paper its most difficult game: At Kentucky at Rupp Arena on Dec. 31 at 6 p.m.