Georgia’s late run of strong play petered out on Sunday night, its season ending on the home court of another team three time zones away.
Thus ended the careers of senior guards Kenny Gaines and Charles Mann, who did what they could, especially Mann, but it wasn’t enough in a loss at St. Mary’s in the second round of the NIT.
Georgia finishes the season 20-14, winning six of its final eight games. But it went out in the second round of the NIT for the second time in three seasons, sandwiched around a first-round exit in the NCAA tournament.
1. MATEN STRUGGLES
Yante Maten, after pouring in a career-high 33 points in last Wednesday’s first-round game, struggled mightily. He went 6-for-22 from the floor and never got to the free throw line, finishing with 12 points.
Maten struggled all over, missing close shots – he started 1-for-9 from the field – and couldn’t get open enough for outside shots. His only 3-point attempt missed.
It was a dud of a game for Maten to end what was a breakout season in which he average over 16 points and eight rebounds a game, and was named second-team All-SEC.
2. TOO LATE, AGAIN
Slow starts will be one of the epitaphs for this Georgia season.
Fittingly, the final game saw the Bulldogs get hot when they were already in a big hole. After only scoring 23 points in the first half, they poured in 24 points in less than nine minutes of the second half.
But St. Mary’s (29-5) shot too well in its home building, extending the lead back out to as many as 17 before the Bulldogs made another run.
Bad starts, followed by frantic finishes, was the tale in a number of key losses this year, including LSU and Auburn. It was also the story of the back half of the season: Playing well down the stretch, but too late to make the NCAAs.
3. MANN AND GAINES FINISH UP
Mann played well down the stretch of this season, and finished that way, tying for the team lead with 13 points. He and Gaines had all of Georgia’s first 16 points to start the second half, leading a comeback that briefly made it a four-point game.
Both seniors had solid careers, individually and team: The Bulldogs won 20 games their final three seasons, and finished .500 or above in SEC play all four seasons. Mann and Gaines both finished in the top 20 on Georgia’s all-time scoring list: Mann is No. 13 and Gaines is No. 19.
Mann also moved into a three-way tie for fifth all time on the school’s assist list, tied with Vern Fleming and Dustin Ware. He also broke the school record for career free throws made and attempted.
Gaines finished tied for fourth in school history in 3-pionters made.
4. OUTSIDE SHOOTING
St. Mary’s had it, and Georgia didn’t. That, and the rebounding edge (St. Mary’s by six) was the difference.
The Gaels have been one of the best shooting teams in the country this season and lived up to it on Sunday, going 9-for-24 from beyond the arc and shooting 50 percent overall.
Georgia had been one of the best defensive teams in the country, but couldn’t stop the Gaels, and couldn’t answer with its own shooting: The Bulldogs missed all eight 3-point attempts in the first half, finishing 4-for-17 beyond the arc.
5. NEXT SEASON
Mann and Gaines are the only players due to leave the program, which has signed two four-star guards (Tyree Crump and Jordan Harris) to replace them.
Head coach Mark Fox also said on the postgame radio broadcast that “we’ll certainly add another player, and with Juwan (Parker) back, we’ll have a complete team.”
Parker missed all of this season with a nagging Achilles injury. He started 14 games the previous season before the Achilles injury hit.