Georgia guard Tyree Crump received his second start of the season against Texas and had his shooting stroke rolling from the opening tip. As the first period reached its midway point, he was feeling it.
Georgia was in transition when Crump was fed a pass at the top of the 3-point line, although well behind it. He’s a fearless shooter, so everyone in the arena probably knows what’ll happen next when Crump sees an opening. After dancing around with Texas defender Elijah Mitrou-Long for a second, Crump leaned in for his signature pull-up shot.
As he released the shot, Crump galloped backwards with eyes set on his coach, his mouth opened and his arms flexed. He knew it was good and it was nothing-but-net.
“I see the basket is open and I just can go,” Crump said. “It don’t matter what shot it is, I think it’s a good shot. For me, if I feel like I could make it, I’m going to take it.”
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And at that very moment, he was free.
There wouldn’t be extended time on the bench, nor would there be any semblance of a cold streak to warrant it. Crump had an offensive rhythm that couldn’t be stopped by Texas as he did it again, again and well … say again three more times. Crump was 6-of-8 from the 3-point line, and for reference, Georgia had made fewer than six 3-pointers in nine games this season.
His efficiency spread team-wide, and as you might’ve guessed, it led Georgia (10-9, 1-5 SEC) to a 98-88 win over Texas (11-9, 3-4 Big 12) to snap a four-game losing streak and playfully avenge the football team’s Sugar Bowl loss.
Time to cue Celine Dion and “My Heart Will Go On,” maybe?
“(Crump) was obviously a huge key. He hit half the threes they made,” said Texas head coach Shaka Smart, who has lost consecutive games in Athens with the Longhorns. “When he made the first three, and then I believe we fouled him on the next one, he was off and running. That’s what he does. He’s a 3-point shooter.”
Crump’s level of excitement resembled that of a player who had finally gotten his chance to prove some doubters wrong. That’s not to say that Georgia head coach Tom Crean didn’t believe in the junior, because he did. But a workload for Crump to get himself into a rhythm has been hit-or-miss.
His playing time didn’t fluctuate as drastically as last season, during which he would receive 31 minutes of play in one contest then six in the next. Nor does Crump find himself in a situation where he plays single-digit minutes in 6-of-8 games. There’s more of a consistency under Crean, but Crump hadn’t hit the 20-minute mark since opening SEC play on Jan. 5 — until Saturday night. Crump received a career-high 32 minutes and notched 21 points.
Crean said it was factors such as practice efforts and the injury-related absence of fellow guard Jordan Harris that allowed for Crump to start for the first time since Nov. 16 against Sam Houston State.
“It means something to him big time. He really wants to be good,” Crean said. “He goes really hard. He puts a lot into it. I think not only was his shots helping his confidence, but the excitement that his teammates had was helping his confidence.”
As Crump takes his 3-pointers, it creates quite the interesting dynamic in Stegeman Coliseum. There’s plenty of noise during the possession, then when Crump pauses for an attempt, it nearly seems like the breathing of 10,374 fans follows suit. There’s a wave of complete silence, because regardless of the shot’s difficulty, there’s a belief from the fans and Crump himself that it’ll fall through.
Once his shots did so, his teammates found their stroke as well. At one point, Georgia had converted on 10 consecutive first-half shots and finished with a staggering 66.7 shooting percentage.
From the 3-point line, the Bulldogs had a season-high 12 makes and shot 70.6 percent after entering Saturday’s contest at a 32.4 percent mark and looking anemic at times. Georgia’s overall mark was the fourth-best in school history (114 seasons), and the 3-point finish was the third-highest.
“I’m not sure I’ve ever coached a team in 19 years that’s shot that well in all three spots,” said Crean, who has built an illustrious coaching career with stops and deep tournament runs at Marquette and Indiana. “It’s the confidence, and we need more of that in a proper way — spacing and getting those looks.”
Earlier in SEC play, Crean plead for an uptick in production at his guard spots, and he got it against Texas. It wasn’t only Crump’s 21-point effort, but Teshaun Hightower (18) and Turtle Jackson (13) were guards to tally double digits. It was Crump’s firing start, led by cutting-and-spacing on the offensive end, that allowed his teammates to join in on the act.
Georgia had its second-highest offensive output of the season, trailing a 110-point showing in the season-opener against Savannah State. But this was a Big 12 program, and Georgia nearly hit the century mark.
“It kind of opened up everything, it really opened it up for our bigs because they were so keyed up on me, ‘Do not leave four,’” Crump said. “That kind of opened up things for Nic (Claxton) and Rayshaun (Hammonds). … Now Texas is like, ‘Oh man, their guards are hitting threes, we can’t just worry about Crump, we’ve got to worry about Teshaun, we’ve got to worry about Turtle and the other guards that play.’”
That is all part of an offensive vision for Georgia, and it has been rather tough to grasp due to changing from a run-out-the-clock approach to a transition-style game. An alarming stat that’ll limit the Bulldogs from fully grabbing hold of that goal is 26 turnovers, but a balanced scoring attack and 25 assists countered that.
Georgia began to see it in the second half of its Wednesday loss at LSU with a 57-percent shooting mark from the field. It carried over, and Crean said his team improved in its development while recording a 10th win.
“We played with that pace,” Claxton said. “They’ve been harping on us cutting in the offense and not just standing still. Me and Rayshaun, the defense can start to key in on us, but we can make sure we are cutting because it makes it harder to guard. We’re starting to see it.”
For Crump, that was his approach. There was no “pre-determining” or hunting for the rim, as his coach put it. Instead, it was playing in the flow of the Bulldogs’ offense and his shooting total was among his career-best.
And as the fiery guard looked back at his bench in elation after a big make, so did a host of those clad in red-and-black enjoying the thrill with him. It was those moments that fueled the shooting stroke to live on.
“I know for a fact I love the crowd,” Crump said. “Once I hit a shot, I’m looking into the crowd trying to get them going.”