ATLANTA – In an intense, foul-marred and emotional game, Georgia just barely outlasted Mississippi. And the Bulldogs’ improbable SEC run continued for at least one more day.
Georgia beat Ole Miss, 75-73, in an SEC tournament quarterfinal at the Georgia Dome. Charles Mann hit a driving layup to put Georgia ahead in the waning moments, then after teammate Marcus Thornton went 1-for-2 from the line, Mann defended a last-second 3-pointer by Ole Miss’ Jarvis Summers.
That set up a semifinal between the two teams that finished tied for second place in the SEC regular season: Kentucky, the preseason No. 1 team that struggled down the stretch, and Georgia, which most left for dead after starting the season 1-4.
Georgia (19-12 overall) kept alive its longshot NCAA tournament hopes. The Bulldogs probably have to win the SEC tournament, as its poor nonconference performance bring down its at-large hopes.
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This is also the first time since 2008 that Georgia has advanced to the SEC semifinals. It won the tournament that year.
The Bulldogs barely survived sixth-seeded Ole Miss. This game saw 17 ties and 20 lead changes.
Ole Miss jumped out to an 18-7 lead, despite just one 3 from Marshall Henderson. And Mann picked up his second foul. Georgia looked headed for disaster.
Then J.J. Frazier came in the game.
The diminutive freshman has provided a spark often this season, and he did again on Friday. He immediately hit a 3, then passed on the break to Gaines, who nailed a 3, and a short time later Frazier hit another 3. It was a three-point game.
The fouls, however, didn’t stop: Thornton picked up his second at the 10:52 mark. Fellow big man Donte’ Williams would pick up his second later. So did Gaines, but not before hitting another 3.
Thornton played just five minutes in the first half. Mann just seven, and Gaines and Williams had 11 each.
Fox was livid. He nearly picked up a technical, instead just a bench warning, when he screamed at what he saw the inequity in fouls. He also kept his starters with two fouls on the bench, as is his custom. So for much of the rest of the half Georgia played with essentially its second unit, Brandon Morris the only starter to escape foul trouble. Morris provided a big lift, scoring eight points, including a fast-break layup to give Georgia its first lead. Juwan Parker, the backup shooting guard, sparked that layup with a steal.
Eventually Georgia took a 33-29 lead. Ole Miss recovered and took a 38-36 lead into halftime. But for Georgia to be that close was a success, considering it played much of the time with essentially its second unit.
As they headed to the locker room, some Georgia players were overheard in the hallway complaining about the officiating.
Their reason for complaint receded in the second half, even though Williiams quickly picked up his third. Ole Miss got it worse, whistled for seven fouls by the 15:37 mark, with four Rebels reaching three fouls.
But Georgia couldn’t take advantage, and still trailed, with Henderson ominously sitting on just six points.
Mann hit a step-back 3 to tie it at 43. He soon picked up his third, as did Thornton. But Georgia also took back the lead. Henderson got going, hitting two straight shots to give the Rebels back the lead. Morris answered on the other end with a runner.
The intensity of the game ratcheted up, every foul call protested, big shots being made on both sides.
Williams hit four straight free throws to give Georgia a 56-55 lead with 9:16 left. When Ole Miss re-took the lead, Thornton had a great tip-back. There were five lead changes and six ties in the first 12 minutes of the half.
Then Gaines picked up his fourth foul with 8:16 left, on an away from the ball call against Henderson. Gaines, his teammates and Fox protested vociferously.
Frazier hit another big 3, this time to tie it with just over seven minutes left. Then Frazier scooped up a loose ball and passed downcourt to Mann for a layup.
But on the other end Mann was called for a block. Fox was called for a technical, and had to be physically restrained by assistant Jonas Hayes.
It went from a two-point Georgia lead to an Ole Miss two-point lead. But the Bulldogs tied it again, this time after a suspect call in their favor led to free throws. Then Thornton hit two more, and Georgia led by two with 4:26 left. He went 1-for-2 and it was a three-point game. Then Ole Miss got foul shots and tied it at 70 with just under three minutes left.
Thornton had a layup roll in and out. On the other end he was called for a shooting foul, another close call. Summers made one free throw, and Ole Miss had a one-point lead with 1:42 left.
Gaines was short on a runner. Summers was short on a jumper, and Mann grabbed the rebound, sprinted downcourt and was fouled. He hit two free throws, giving Georgia a one-point lead with 59 seconds left.
Summers answered, hitting a jumper with 45.5 seconds left. Ole Miss had the lead back.
Georgia waited for the shot, and got one: Gaines’ 3 was off, but Morris got the rebound. His put-back was off, then batted out, where Mann grabbed it. He drove and hit the layup with 17 seconds left.
Henderson got an open look, but it was off. The long rebound was batted back by a Rebel, but to Thornton, who was fouled with 3.9 seconds left.
He went to the line, and made the first, but missed the second. Ole Miss got the rebound, and called timeout with 2.6 seconds left.
Newby inbounded from behind halfcourt, Williams in his face. He found Summers on his side. Mann was all over him. Summers heaved it up, and it was short. The game was finally over.