ATHENS — Georgia basketball plays its third game against a ranked SEC opponent in less then a week on Tuesday night looking to shake a two-game skid.
Coach Tom Crean, who led the Bulldogs to three straight SEC games for the first time in five years in the program, said he doesn’t expect any sort of hangover from the losses to Tennessee and Alabama.
“Why would it? We’re in the middle of a season, we just won three in a row, we just won five out of seven before that,” Crean said on Monday “There’s absolutely no reason for morale to drop.”
The Bulldogs (12-8, 5-8 SEC) tip-off against No. 20-ranked Missouri (13-5, 6-5) at 7 p.m. on Tuesday (TV: SEC Network), the start time of the game having been moved back 30 minutes on account of the inclement weather.
The Tigers opened as a 5-point favorite and the spread has dropped to 3 on game day.
Georgia’s reloaded team has been a work in progress again this season with eight newcomers, including explosive freshman guard K.D. Johnson.
Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin made it clear to DawgNation he has taken notice.
“He’s a tough, aggressive scorer,” Martin said. “He seems to perform well with bright lights. I love his energy and passion on the floor, and his teammates feed off of it.”
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound Atlanta product is coming off back-to-back career-high scoring efforts of 22 points at Tennessee and 24 at Alabama, and Crean believes there’s more room for improvement.
Especially when one considers Johnson wasn’t cleared to play until little more than a month ago (Jan. 13).
“He just needs to keep getting comfortable and keep moving without the basketball,” Crean said. “He needs to understand it’s a long game, and the movement without the basketball and being in the attack is really, really important.
“He’s a guy that cannot only let the game come to him, but he can attack. We need him to attack. We need him to be on the attack. We need him to be ready to shoot, and I think when we can play three guards like that it opens things up.”
SEC Network analyst Dane Bradshaw, who has been on the call for multiple Georgia games this season, said Johnson has provided an eyeful.
“If you didn’t know he was a freshman, you would guess he was at least a junior just looking at his physique,” Bradshaw told DawgNation. “The past couple of games when the team has gotten down, he hasn’t shown any quit by being really aggressive and, in spurts, he’s been the best on the court.”
Georgia is averaging 78.1 points per game this season, which represents the most a Bulldogs’ team has scored per game since the 2002-03 team finished the season pouring in 79.2 per night.
The Bulldogs could find themselves in a shootout with Coach Cuonzo Martin’s Tigers, as they will be without center Jeremiah Tilmon for a second consecutive game. The 6-foot-10, 260-pounder has been averaging 12.8 points and 7.8 rebounds per game this season.
Crean said that, without Tilmon, he expects Missouri to play a bit more like Alabama in terms of how it spaces the court.
“We have tremendous respect for Cuonzo Martin, tremendous respect for that staff and the way that they play, their guard play,” Crean said. “Whether Tilmon is in there or not, they’re bringing a really good, strong aggressive front line that can not only score at the rim and rebound but can shoot the three.
“ If there is no Tilmon, it increases their spacing. If there is a Tilmon, obviously … they have a lot of answers because they have a lot of depth and a lot of very good players.”
Georgia dropped last season’s meeting to after dropping a 20-point lead in a 72-69 loss in Columbia.
The Tigers beat the Bulldogs in their most recent trip to Athens, 64-39, on Senior Night at the conclusion of the 2018-19 season, a game that embodied how uncompetitive that outgoing group of players was throughout Crean’s first season.