ATHENS — Tyree Crump’s mother has been battling Lupus for the past five years. So when Crump found out last Saturday that he would getting the first start of his college career, he called her.
“I told her I was going to do it for her if I got a chance,” Crump said. “She was emotional and I was emotional. So that really meant a lot.”
It ended up meaning a lot to his team as well. Crump’s long-awaited starting debut – actually, his debut in getting extended playing time at all – resulted in Georgia’s best win of the season, 76-75 at Tennessee. It snapped a five-game losing streak in SEC play.
It also raised the obvious question: On a team that badly needed outside shooting, why did Crump – who had 13 points in just 16 minutes at Tennessee, including five straight points in the final minutes – not play this much earlier?
Several times this year, head coach Mark Fox pointed out that Crump’s playing time was limited by having senior J.J. Frazier in front of him. But both started on Saturday, a nod to the fact that each can play both guard positions – and that it was time to try something different.
It worked. And it wasn’t just a one-off, Fox indicated Monday when asked if Crump had earned more playing time.
“Yeah, Tyree played very well,” Fox said. “He performed very well in a very hotly-contested game. So he’ll be able to build on that.”
Was Crump not ready for that much action before?
“No. He’s had to learn a lot,” Fox said. “It’s like a freshman quarterback. There’s so many things that you have to read and have to react to that you didn’t even know existed when you were in high school. It’s a hard position to learn, and he’s been very diligent about trying to get better at both ends. And he’s gotten better, and he took advantage of it.”
Fox didn’t come out and say Crump would again start Tuesday night against Mississippi State (14-10, 5-7). But it would be hard to see it not happening, considering the previous results.
Crump’s defense has also been pointed to as a reason he didn’t play much before. Fox said Crump is now “significantly better, light years better” than he had been.
The threat of another strong outside shooter has to help Frazier. His numbers aren’t as strong as his junior year, when the presence of Kenny Gaines, another good 3-point shooter, left Frazier in more one-on-one situations where he could get space. This year Frazier has been shadowed and often doubled around the arc.
“Even when (Crump) didn’t the ball, they couldn’t help off as much. And when they did help off, he made them pay more times than not,” Frazier said. “He’s a great shooter, and everybody knows it.”
Crump hit three 3s at Tennessee, including a pull-up late in the game to extend Georgia’s lead to six. It proved to be the difference as Georgia held on to win.
Prior to that, Crump was only averaging 3.1 minutes per game – and that was just in the games he played. There were three conference games he didn’t even get off the bench.
It was quite a change for Crump, a four-star recruit and big-time scorer at Bainbridge High School. He was asked how he dealt with not playing much this season.
“I just believed in coach, and stuck with it,” Crump said. “And I knew that eventually if I keep working hard my opportunity will come. And it did.”