ATHENS — Mark Fox is trusting his team in critical moments. It may have burned him at Florida. It worked on Tuesday night.
Three days before, Fox had declined to use one of his two remaining timeouts in the final minute of regulation at Florida, even as J.J. Frazier faced a triple-team far from the basket, the shot clock winding down. The Bulldogs, up two at the time, didn’t get a shot off, ended up going to overtime, where they lost.
It was a different situation on Tuesday, earlier in the game: Vanderbilt, down convincingly most of the game, had suddenly rallied within three points early in the second half.
Fox could have used a timeout to try to stifle Vanderbilt’s momentum. But he didn’t, apparently at the behest of one of his two best players.
“I told him not to call a timeout,” said J.J. Frazier, the senior guard.
Frazier ended up igniting a run that pushed Georgia back ahead, and it ended up with a 76-68 win. In years past – or even games past – Fox would have burned the timeout. This time he decided he had the team capable of figuring it out on its own.
“That group he had out was pretty old. We know what we’re supposed to do in a situation like that,” Frazier said. “Me as a senior point guard I know what play to call, and how the game is flowing. But it’s pretty cool to have that trust in me.”
It also appeared Fox was banking on the under-16 media timeout, rather than burning one of his own. But it ended up taking another nearly three minutes for a stoppage – by which time Georgia, justifying its coach’s restraint, had pushed it back up to nine. It was Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew who called timeout to stop a run.
Fox, asked later whether it was his players who talked him out of a timeout, indicated it was more a collective decision.
“We were going to play through that,” Fox said. “We’re experienced enough now that we can answer some of those runs, and tonight we did.”
There’s a larger lesson in all this, and a hopeful one for Georgia: Things are coming together after a slow start. Fox has grown comfortable with his rotations, and especially with his veteran players: Frazier and Juwan Parker are fourth-year players and Yante Maten is in his third year. Sophomore Derek Ogbeide is developing a good offensive game, freshman Jordan Harris is playing within himself, and bench players like Turtle Jackson, Mike Edwards and Pape Diatta are providing good minutes.
Add it all up, and Fox, a coach accused at times for over-coaching when it comes to his rotations and timeouts, is feeling more confident about letting his guys play. And now Georgia (12-6 overall, 4-2 in the SEC) heads to Texas A&M with momentum, self-confidence, and a chance to further bolster its postseason hopes.