ATHENS -- Charles Mann walked to the free-throw line, took a deep breath, hit the shot and pumped his fist. When it came time for the second shot, he walked back up, aimed and hit it again ... and then panicked.
That wasn’t the plan. It was fitting for the Georgia basketball team Saturday. On a day it couldn’t hit free throws, it made one when it was actually trying not to.
But it turned out fine, as Mann’s free throws with 2.5 seconds left provided the difference in a 65-63 win over Western Carolina.
The Bulldogs trailed by 10 with seven minutes left and needed a furious rally and some fortuitous calls to pull off the win.
“I thought their team deserved to win that game more than ours did,” Georgia head coach Mark Fox said.
“I’d have to agree with him on that,” Western Carolina head coach Larry Hunter said.
Hunter was upset with Georgia getting the chance to win the game at the line. The game was tied when Mann drove down the lane, and officials called a foul on the Catamounts, signaling that they hacked Mann on the arm.
“Give (Georgia) credit, they fought back on us, and we had some opportunities to take advantage, but I just can’t understand how they determined this kind of ballgame with a free throw right there at the end,” Hunter said. “That’s the ballgame right there. Make them earn it. They may have beaten us, but make them earn it. I’m not trying to take anything away from the University of Georgia, but it’s just very, very frustrating.”
Hunter might also have been frustrated with the way the calls went in general, his team whistled for twice as many personal fouls (26-to-13). But Georgia couldn’t take advantage, going 24-for-38 from the line.
Mann struggled the most and was 3-for-9 when he went to the line with 2.5 seconds left.
“Even though I was missing, I felt confident in myself,” Mann said. “I’m shooting about 76 percent for the season. I kept on believing in myself.”
So he hit the first one. Then Fox called timeout so he could set his defense and instructed Mann to miss the second. Western Carolina had a timeout left, but the feeling was that the Catamounts wouldn’t be able to get anything but a 3-pointer anyway, so Fox wanted a little more time to go off the clock.
But Mann, who couldn’t make most of the day when he was trying to make, ended up hitting it when he was trying to miss.
“I have no idea,” Mann said, smiling sheepishly. “I guess it just went in.”
Western Carolina didn’t use its timeout. It got the ball downcourt, where an off-balance 3-point heave fell short.
The fact it was even this close was worrisome for Georgia, which was shaky on defense most of the day.
Fox put the blame squarely on himself.
“I did not coach very well,” Fox said. “I told our team that. I didn’t have you prepared well enough to play against their changing defenses, and that’s on me. I didn’t feel like we had a good approach there.”
This was the final game of Georgia’s five-game homestand, where the object was to do no harm and figure things out for the ensuing stretch. Four of the next five games are on the road, and those four teams are ranked in the top 40 in the RPI.
The problem for Georgia is it wheezed to the end of the past two games, after winning decisively the first three games.
But Fox saw some light in that.
“You’re not gonna play pretty every night. And when you play not as well as you want to and win, that’s a good thing,” Fox said.