ATHENS -- The best atmosphere thus far this season, provided by thousands of screaming schoolchildren, resulted in Georgia’s worst offensive game of the season.
Luckily for the Bulldogs, it did an even worse number on their opponents.
As several thousand schoolchildren cheered every basket -- the few there were -- the Georgia basketball team escaped with a 58-49 win over Gardner-Webb on Thursday morning and afternoon.
The game started at 11:30 a.m., as for the second straight year elementary schools from Clarke County were invited to bring students to the game. Approximately 4,600 were at Stegeman Coliseum, which hasn’t seen many raucous atmospheres lately. The total announced attendance (8,719) was easily the second most this season, trailing only the Georgia Tech game.
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“Definitely a different kind of noise. That high-pitched sound,” said Georgia junior Marcus Thornton, who finished with 11 points and seven rebounds. “But we really appreciate them coming in and enjoy it.”
“It was wild, I think they gave me a little bit too much energy,” said freshman guard Juwan Parker, who had 12 points and nine rebounds. “I was so sped up, from the hypeness of the crowd, those little kids jumping around. It was fun, though.”
Georgia head coach Mark Fox said the setup could only be done once a year because it would be an “inconvenience” to season-ticket holders.
The young children probably didn’t realize they were witnessing a poor display of offense. Georgia’s point total was its lowest of the season after averaging 76 points per game.
“I thought our team had a little zombie look to them,” Fox said, blaming the early start time.
But Gardner-Webb (6-7) was worse, thanks to 31 percent shooting. It did rally to within one with six minutes left in the game, but Georgia point guard Charles Mann answered with a three-point play, after driving to the hoop for a layup.
Mann, the team’s leading scorer, returned after a one-game absence because of a shin bruise. He didn’t start, but he ended up playing a team-high 32 minutes.
Rebounding was pivotal for Georgia, which had a 46-27 advantage on the boards. Gardner-Webb only had five second-chance points.
“That’s been a big focus in practice lately, is finishing out a possession with a big strong rebound, so we can get our offense going,” Parker said.
The victory was the fourth straight for the Bulldogs, who are nearing the end of a five-game homestand against weaker non-conference foes. It finishes Saturday against Western Carolina.
Then Georgia (5-4) plays road games against one ranked team (Colorado) and another on the verge of being ranked (George Washington). Those two teams are a combined 19-2 and own wins over Kansas, Maryland, Miami and Rutgers.