ATHENS, Ga. – The tone and the words out of the coach and players for the Georgia men’s basketball had a more optimistic ring. The result, however, was the same: Another home loss to a team it was expected to beat.
And the monumental test is now just a few days away.
In another offensively-challenged game, Georgia was knocked off in overtime by Southern Miss, 62-60, on Thursday night at Stegeman Coliseum.
That came three days after a 12-point home loss to Youngstown State – and four days before a matchup with No. 1 Indiana in New York.
“We haven’t played well out of the gate,” Georgia head coach Mark Fox said, in a severe understatement. “But we’ve got a lot of opportunities in front of us. It’s a game at a time. And with this group it’s a day at a time. There’s so much to learn from in this game.”
The key play came in the final minute of overtime, when the game was tied: Georgia, struggling as it had all game to get off a good shot against Southern Miss’ zone defense, had the ball knocked away near mid-court. Dwayne Davis of Southern Miss picked it up in transition and scored with 30 seconds left to give USM a 62-60 lead.
“Fight that hard and then lose a ball in the half-court, and get a pick-six and lose the game,” sophomore forward Nemanja Djurisic said.
Djurisic’s use of football terminology was appropriate: Georgia head football coach Mark Richt watched the entire game courtside, standing and cheering down the stretch.
But there was nothing to cheer in the final 30 seconds: Georgia moved the ball around, but was once again left trying to hit 3-pointers: In fact three of them, all by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. His first missed, his second was blocked out of bounds with 1.1 seconds left, and his final one at the buzzer wasn’t close.
“It’s a hard hit for us,” Djurisic said. “And hopefully we’re gonna get up and learn something and definitely I think we’re gonna come out better. Definitely we’re gonna learn to play better against the zone.”
For the second straight game, Georgia put itself in a big hole in the first half. On Monday the Bulldogs only scored 14 points in the first half, prompting Fox to say his team had “set back basketball 10 years.”
This one wasn’t much of an improvement: Georgia trailed 31-27 at the break, and that was after Sherrard Brantley drained a buzzer-beater from close to halfcourt.
The Bulldogs rallied to force overtime, although the chance was there to win it in regulation: Donte’ Williams missed five free throws.
When overtime began, Georgia looked poised to take control: Marcus Thornton’s put-back gave the Bulldogs their first lead since it was 3-0. But then Georgia’s offense returned to its clunky confusion against the Southern Miss zone.
It was the first game back for Williams, who sat the first two games for a team-related discipline. Williams and Fox said it was unrelated to an offseason marijuana arrest, for which Williams was cleared.
“Just me making poor choices, being irresponsible, it comes with consequences,” Williams said.