GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It must feel old by now. And yet, as he leaned against a wall outside the visiting locker room on Thursday night, Georgia guard Travis Leslie had a curious comment.
He had just been asked, after his team fell 71-62 at No. 13 Florida, why the Bulldogs continued to sputter in the second half.
“I think we get a little comfortable because we’ve got the lead,” Leslie said. “(We) let teams back in it. Things go downhill from there.”
The curious part is how the Bulldogs could still be comfortable with a second-half lead. Their inability to hold them is becoming the story of their season.
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Thursday’s game was the sixth straight in which Georgia was ahead at the half. But it lost three of those games, had to go to overtime to win another (Auburn) and barely held on in another (at South Carolina) after leading by 24.
The remaining win in that span was Saturday at Tennessee -- when the Bulldogs blew a 14-point first-half lead, then rallied to win anyway.
They couldn’t come back this time, leaving the Bulldogs (18-9 overall, 7-6 in the SEC) still short of what it needs to do to cinch up an NCAA tournament at-large berth.
When told of Leslie’s comment, Georgia head coach Mark Fox issued what could be seen as a mild rebuke.
“We’re not the most mature group when it comes to handling success,” Fox said. “I think our leadership in those positions has got to improve. But that’s part of the process.”
The win allowed Florida (22-5, 11-2 in the SEC) to clinch the East Division’s top seed for the SEC tournament.
For Georgia it means dropping back into a tie for third place. It was not a bad loss for its NCAA tournament hopes, especially with two winnable home games coming up against South Carolina and LSU.
But a win over Florida would have gone a long way toward cinching things, and the Bulldogs had control for awhile.
Georgia led by seven after the first half, dominating the boards (17-11) and going 15-for-25 from the field. Its biggest lead was 31-20, after a Leslie three-point play.
But the Gators started their rally at that point. They went on a 15-4 run through the early minutes of the second half, with Chandler Parsons scoring seven during that span.
“They just seemed to start playing harder,” Georgia forward Trey Thompkins said. “It seemed like they were challenged, and they felt like they had to come out and play hard at home. And they did so.”
The teams went back and forth for awhile, then Kenny Boynton caught fire. The Florida sophomore guard hit three consecutive 3s, then hit Alex Tyus for a fast-break layup that made it 63-53.
Fox answered by burning his final timeout with 5:09 still left.
“They just out-worked us in the second half,” Leslie said. “They beat us on the boards in the second half.”
The defensive rebounding was what Fox pointed to also: Georgia was outrebounded 19-15 in the second half.
The Bulldogs did show more life after Fox’s final timeout, drawing within four. But Thompkins missed a pair of free throws with 2:38 left, and the Bulldogs never got closer.
“Nobody in this league is going to lay down,” Thompkins said. “But we’ve got to learn to respond to things like that and come out and play for two halves.”
Fox was asked if, with the season nearing an end, there was time to still time to mature into a team that can handle success.
“We haven’t stopped improving. We won’t stop improving. We won’t stop learning,” he said. “We still have a lot of lessons to learn, and experiences to have, and lessons to learn from the good and the bad. So I think we can still grow from it.”
Thompkins 7-16 2-5 16, Price 3-4 1-1 7, Leslie 8-14 4-4 20, Ware 1-4 0-0 3, Robinson 4-9 0-0 9, Thornton 0-0 0-0 0, Barnes 0-0 0-0 0, V. Williams 0-0 0-0 0, D. Williams 1-1 0-0 2, Brantley 2-4 0-0 5. Totals 26-52 7-10 62.
Tyus 5-10 2-2 12, Prather 0-1 0-0 0, Macklin 1-2 3-3 5, Boynton 5-14 5-6 18, Walker 5-13 3-5 15, Young 0-0 1-2 1, Wilbekin 2-3 0-0 4, Yeguete 0-0 0-0 0, Parsons 7-12 0-2 16, Murphy 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-55 14-20 71.
Halftime--Georgia 33-26. 3-Point Goals--Georgia 3-13 (Robinson 1-3, Brantley 1-3, Ware 1-4, Leslie 0-1, Thompkins 0-2), Florida 7-20 (Boynton 3-7, Parsons 2-5, Walker 2-8). Fouled Out--None. Rebounds--Georgia 32 (Thompkins 7), Florida 30 (Macklin 8). Assists--Georgia 17 (Robinson 6), Florida 13 (Boynton 4). Total Fouls--Georgia 14, Florida 10. A--12,013.