COLUMBIA, S.C. — It was late in the first half Wednesday night, and Georgia was putting its five men back on the court after a timeout. It took a second before the realization hit press row: Is that Isaac Kante?
Reporters looked closer. Yes, really, it was Kante, the rarely-used freshman — so rarely used he had only played in three SEC games, and just 1 minute each time, all at the end of blowouts. He was the 12th man on the bench, and yet here was entering late in the first half of a close game, a very important game for Georgia.
Kante didn’t play long, only 2 minutes. But it was symbolic of a Georgia team that still seems to be trying to find itself. And maybe that’s why this season has been such a struggle.
Perhaps that’s looking too much into it. Head coach Mark Fox would say so. He was asked after his team’s 66-57 loss at South Carolina when his team looked off balance, whether it was the matchup or his team was still trying to figure things out.
“No that’s a total credit to South Carolina. They disrupt everybody,” Fox said. “The way that they play, your hope is you get a game where you can win the foul line. But that’s a total credit to South Carolina and how they defend, and how disruptive they are.”
It may be true. South Carolina (15-13, 6-9 SEC), now having swept Georgia (15-12, 6-9), may just be a bad matchup for the Bulldogs. But the Bulldogs also committed 17 turnovers, including 5 travel violations in the first 9 minutes alone, and you can’t chalk all those up to just a bad matchup.
“At the end of the day turnovers are always on the offense,” Georgia senior Yante Maten said.
Then there’s the offense itself, which continues to be a confusing mess in certain half-court sets. Last week players such as Tyree Crump and Derek Ogbeide were giving Maten help off the bench with scoring help. But on this night only one other player — Turtle Jackson — finished in double figures.
Georgia used 12 scholarship players in the first half alone on Wednesday, including Kante. (Foul trouble contributed to that.) The rotation shortened somewhat in the second half, but the team still lacks much consistency: Maten is going to play and get his, but whether the supporting cast gives him enough help is usually a coin flip.
Rayshaun Hammonds, the freshman forward, sort of accidentally described the team’s offense when summarizing what the team was trying to do after trailing by 15 at halftime.
“We were just talking about getting out of the hole,” Hammonds said. “Playing our game, and trying to find a way to score. Get it to Yante if he’s open. Find a way. That’s really it.”
Look at those last three sentences: “Get it to Yante if he’s open. Find a way. That’s really it.”
Well, Maten is hardly ever open. That should open things up for other players, but that hasn’t happened most of the time lately. And it didn’t on Wednesday.
Crump made 2 3-pointers, including one while being fouled. But why did he only shoot one other 3? Why did the team’s best outside shooter only try a pair of 3-pointers?
Why did Jackson, Crump and Teshaun Hightower — all three played some point guard on Wednesday — fail to get the team going?
“We just made some poor plays. Our point guards made some very poor decisions,” Fox said. “We threw two balls away that should have never been thrown away.”
It is true that Georgia’s perimeter defense was also largely to blame: South Carolina, one of the worst shooting teams in the SEC, shot 13 for 31 beyond the arc. But even if it had shot worse and Georgia had somehow won, the Bulldogs would have won a low-scoring game. The problem remains an offense that just isn’t consistent, perhaps the result of a team that just hasn’t been able to establish its roles.
It’s getting too late to fix it.