ATHENS – Yante Maten had a career night. J.J. Frazier was quiet – until the end. And Georgia’s season will last at least one more game.
In a high-offense, low-defense NIT opener, Georgia out-scored – there’s no other way to put it – visiting Belmont on Wednesday night, 93-84.
It was easily Georgia’s most points in any game this season, and it was needed to survive a Belmont team that tried 37 3-pointers, making 14 of them. In a game where motivation could be an issue, Georgia answered the call, rising above a Belmont team whose coach Rick Byrd said: “I thought we played one of our better games.”
The Bulldogs (20-12), who have now won six of seven games, will travel to St. Mary’s (Calif.) for a Sunday game at 7:30 p.m.
Five observations from Wednesday night’s game:
1. TWENTY WINS
Georgia has now won 20 games in three straight seasons for only the second time in school history. The previous run was from 1996-98, in Tubby Smith’s two years at Georgia and Ron Jirsa’s first.
This is the 14th 20-win season in program history. (That includes the 2001-02 season, when wins were vacated because of sanctions.) Four of them have come in head coach Mark Fox’s seven-year tenure.
“Steppingstones for our program,” senior guard Kenny Gaines said.
Fox pointed out that Marcus Thornton last year (when he was a fifth-year senior) was the fifth player in program history to have three 20-win seasons. This year six players can now say it.
“So from that standpoint it’s a monumental win for us,” Fox said.
2. MATEN’S HUGE GAME
Maten did everything, from nailing 3 pointers to dribbling the length of the court and throwing down a crowd-roaring dunk.
Maten set a new career high with 33 points, carrying the Bulldogs nearly by himself in the first half. Then he reserved his biggest moment for when the game got tight again.
Belmont drew within two points and had the ball when Maten came up with a loose ball. Maten grabbed it, then dribbled the length of the floor and threw down a one-handed dunk, bringing the crowd to its feet.
Asked later if he was going to try to catch the play on SportCenter, Maten smiled and answered: “Well, I don’t have cable in my room, so no.”
The 6-foot-8 forward entered the game with five 3s all season (and career). He hit three in the first half. Maten hit 10 of his first 11 shots, with many of them being jumpers.
“Outside, they were kinda backing off of me, and I kinda felt my shot going in before the game, so why not?” Maten said.
“He’s never taken three 3s in practice,” Fox said, grinning.
3. FRAZIER LATE – AGAIN
The biggest intrigue entering the game was whether Frazier, the team’s leading scorer, would be able to play. He did, and was his usual big-shot self in the final few minutes.
Frazier sprained his foot in the SEC tournament, and on Tuesday Mark Fox didn’t sound too optimistic he would play. Frazier didn’t practice Monday or Tuesday, but sent Fox a text message on Wednesday morning proclaiming that he would play.
“No you’re not making that decision,” Fox said. “Halfway through warm-ups the medical staff decided to let him go, and if he came out injured we were going to keep him out.”
Frazier started and played his usual minutes, and had six assists in the first 15 minutes. But his scoring ability did seem affected, as he only had five points when he picked up his fourth foul and checked out with 5:39 left.
Then came the big shots: As the shot clock wound down, Frazier drained a rainbow 3 to make it a seven-point contest with 1:47 left. Then he hit four straight free throws to extend the lead to 11.
“If he had not been able to play tonight, they would have been a different team,” Byrd said. “Maten was really good tonight. But Frazier, the way he plays, he really loosens them up.”
4. MANN’S OUTSIDE SHOT
As his college career is nearing an end, Charles Mann is becoming a 3-point shooter.
Mann hit four 3s on Wednesday, only the second time in his 131-game career he’s done that. He entered the game with just 17 three-pointers this season, and just 58 in his career.
“I knew it was going to be a good game when it started going in,” Mann said. “I saw one go in and I got a little bit off confidence and just kept shooting it.”
Mann finished the game with a season-high 23 points. His game would have been the story if not for Maten’s game.
The 6-foot-5 Mann’s main offense throughout his career had been off drives, heavily dependent on free throws. He still does that, just not as often as before.
Heading into Saturday, Mann needs just three more free throws to have the second-most free throws in SEC history, behind Pete Maravich.
5. A REDISCOVERED OFFENSE
Something has definitely clicked for Georgia down the stretch: The Bulldogs are averaging 77.8 points over their past eight games, up from 64.9 points over the first 25.
It’s also getting great starts: Georgia only scored 40 points in the first half twice in 29 regular season games. It’s now done it three times in four postseason games.