NOTE: Here's the game story I filed to the papers.
NEW ORLEANS – For one game and one half, Georgia made more noise at the SEC men’s basketball tournament than many expected. In so doing, it gave itself something positive to latch onto in the offseason.
Still, the effort to stave off that offseason failed in an abysmal second-half performance on Friday. Third-seeded Vanderbilt ran over Georgia, 63-41, in a quarterfinal that was a game for a half, but a laugher the rest of the way.
And so Georgia’s season of transition ended with a 15-17 record, a year after making the NCAA tournament.
“This group had a challenge because we had so much inexperience and a couple guys leave early,” Georgia head coach Mark Fox said, alluding to Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie. “I thought they accepted that with great class, and that experience will be very valuable for us moving forward.”
On Thursday, Georgia got an all-around effort in its first-round upset of Mississippi State. And in leading Vanderbilt for one half a day later, the Bulldogs got a surprising contribution from the bench.
Freshman center John Cannon, who entered the game with 14 points this season, had six in the first half – including four during a 6-0 run to finish the half. The Bulldogs led 25-24 at the break. Fox ended up playing all 12 scholarship players in that first half, and the team still played even with Vanderbilt.
“They actually kept us in the game the first half,” senior guard Gerald Robinson said.
But the second half was a different story from the outset. Vanderbilt started on a 12-2 run and never looked back. They lead grew to 11 and then only got worse, as Georgia struggled to do anything offensively.
Robinson and freshman Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the team’s top two scorers, finished the game with a combined five points.
“To hold Gerald and Kentavious to five points, we couldn’t have even hoped for that,” Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings said.
The Commodores (22-10) had a bye into the quarterfinals, while Georgia was playing for a second time in two days. Some Bulldogs danced around whether fatigue was to blame in the second half. Freshman forward Nemanja Djurisic did not dance around.
“It was fatigue,” he said. “We got tired in the second half and we couldn’t keep up with them.
They shot it pretty well in the second half and we went into foul trouble the whole time, we couldn’t play the guys we usually play.”
Fox didn’t use it as the main excuse.
“We just didn’t defend well enough,” he said. “That’s be unfair to Vanderbilt to say that.”
Georgia got 15 points from its starters. Caldwell-Pope had foul trouble in the first half, while forwards Marcus Thornton and Donte’ Williams were in foul trouble throughout the game.
The attention quickly turned to the offseason: Thornton will have surgery early next week on his knee, which has been bothering him for awhile. And Fox said he would still like to add some scoring to the roster for next year.
But he also pointed out that he started two freshmen and two sophomores in Friday’s game.
“I feel very good about the experience that those guys were able to get,” Fox said. “I feel very good about the players we're bringing into our team.”
In postgame the locker room, Ware was asked to assess his final season and whether it was a transition year sort of doomed from the start.
“I guess you can look at it that way. We never saw it that way. We just saw it as an opportunity to go out and win as many games as possible. Losing guys like Travis and Trey definitely hurt. But we had a lot of guys step up and grow in a lot of areas this year. So those guys are definitely going to be ready next year.”