ATLANTA | Georgia‚Äôs Southeastern Conference success picked up where it left off in the regular season late Friday night when the Bulldogs outlasted Ole Miss in an emotionally-charged, foul-filled league tournament quarterfinal game.
Charles Mann‚Äôs driving layup with 17 seconds to play pushed the Bulldogs ahead, Marcus Thornton added a free throw with 3.9 seconds to go and Ole Miss‚Äô Jarvis Summers‚Äô 3-pointer at the buzzer was off, moving Georgia to the semifinals with a 75-73 victory.
‚ÄúI think we‚Äôre done enjoying it now,‚Äù Thornton, who had a game-high 11 rebounds and nine points, said in the Bulldogs‚Äô locker room less than a half hour after the game ended. ‚ÄúWe play in less than 24 hours so we‚Äôve got to get ready. We‚Äôre getting ready to flush it and get ready for tomorrow.‚Äù
The question quickly became can the Bulldogs pull off a Big Blue upset against a No. 2 seeded Kentucky team that No. 3 seed Georgia tied for second with in the SEC standings?
The answer comes during today‚Äôs game that should tip around 3:30 p.m. at the Georgia Dome. The Wildcats (23-9) crushed Georgia 79-54 on Jan. 25 in Lexington but guards Kenny Gaines and Juwan Parker were out injured.
Bulldogs coach Mark Fox called it ‚Äúa big game. They‚Äôve got a wonderful team. It‚Äôs a quick turnaround, 13 or 14 hours whatever it is. It‚Äôs a big challenge, but it‚Äôs a wonderful opportunity for our program.‚Äù
On Friday night, two teams fighting to stay alive in the quest for an NCAA tournament bid played an intense game that included 20 lead changes, 17 ties, 51 total fouls and 73 total free throws.
‚ÄúIt was a March Madness game, it was tough,‚Äù said Mann, who scored a team-high 16 points. ‚ÄúThe crowd (of 19,056) was into it. It was a team effort. The whole team was into it, but we‚Äôve got to play better than we did today in order to win tomorrow.‚Äù
Georgia reached its first SEC semifinals since 2008 when it won the tornado-effected tournament here that was moved to Georgia Tech.
‚ÄúIt was good we got the win,‚Äù said Gaines, who added 12 points. ‚ÄúIt kind of validated our double-bye. Not that they just kind of put us there or we kind of skated by but it definitely validated our regular SEC schedule.‚Äù
Georgia (19-12) trailed 38-36 at halftime, but considering every starter except for Brandon Morris picked up two fouls in the half, it probably wasn‚Äôt as bad as it could have been.
With under five minutes to play in the first half, Georgia‚Äôs lineup was freshmen Parker and J.J. Frazier, Tim Dixon, Nemanja Djurisic and Morris. Dixon was in the game despite playing with a swollen left eye from a hit in practice.
‚ÄúI was just trying to keep it at equal to at least halftime so we could get our starters back in to finish it off,‚Äù Dixon said.
Thornton was limited to 5 minutes in the half while Mann got just 7 minutes and Gaines and Donte‚Äô Williams 11 each.
Fox thought his team played out of synch at the start.
‚ÄúIt was almost like the tournament was too big for us,‚Äù he said. ‚ÄúWe weren‚Äôt able to relax. It took us a long time.‚Äù
Ole Miss went ahead 13-6 before the foul trouble really kicked in and opened an 18-7 lead.
Frazier came off the bench to hit a couple of 3-pointers as the Bulldogs closed to 19-16 with 11:06 left in the first.
Morris scored on a drive to give Georgia a 29-28 lead and the Bulldogs pushed it to four on an inside score from Djurisic.
The Pat Adams-led officiating crew called plenty of fouls on both sides.
Fox got called for a technical foul with 6:48 to go when he was livid when Mann picked up his fourth foul on a blocking call.
Ole Miss (19-14), which will wait to find out if it makes the NIT, had Dwight Coleby (10 points) and Sebastian Saiz foul out.
The Bulldogs led 72-71 when Mann hit a pair of free throws with 59 seconds to go but Summers answered by draining a 17-footer with 45.5 seconds to go for a 73-72 lead, but Ole Miss couldn‚Äôt hold on.
Ole Miss inbounded the ball with 2.6 seconds left and down by two and about three quarters of the court away from the basket.
The Rebels got the ball to Summers who was guarded by Mann as he got off a shot in front of the Georgia bench.
‚ÄúI just was praying it didn‚Äôt go in,‚Äù Mann said. ‚ÄúI tried to contest it the best that I can and it didn‚Äôt go in but it was a great look for him.‚Äù
Georgia held Rebels quick trigger guard Marshall Henderson to 19 points on 5 of 21 shooting, including 2 of 16 on 3-pointers.
‚ÄúWe knew he or Summers would get the ball,‚Äù Fox said of the final shot. ‚ÄúEssentially I took a play out of Mark Richt‚Äôs playbook and I had Brandon Morris as a free safety. I just said you go to the ball and we‚Äôll have two guys guarding him so that‚Äôs what we tried to do.‚Äù
Now here comes Kentucky.
‚ÄúWe‚Äôre looking forward to it,‚Äù Mann said. ‚Äúand we‚Äôre ready for it.‚Äù
Jones 2-3 0-0 4, Cox 0-1 2-4 2, Newby 2-5 2-2 6, Henderson 5-21 7-8 19, Summers 10-16 6-10 26, Millinghaus 0-0 0-0 0, White 0-2 0-0 0, Saiz 3-5 0-0 6, Perez 0-4 0-0 0, Coleby 3-3 4-7 10. Totals 25-60 21-31 73.
Thornton 1-4 7-10 9, Williams 1-5 4-6 6, Morris 3-8 6-8 12, Mann 5-9 5-7 16, Gaines 3-11 4-5 12, Parker 1-2 2-2 4, Dixon 0-1 0-0 0, Forte 0-0 0-0 0, Frazier 4-7 0-0 11, Djurisic 1-6 3-4 5. Totals 19-53 31-42 75.
Halftime: Mississippi 38-36. 3-Point Goals_Mississippi 2-25 (Henderson 2-16, Jones 0-1, White 0-1, Newby 0-1, Perez 0-2, Summers 0-4), Georgia 6-19 (Frazier 3-6, Gaines 2-7, Mann 1-1, Morris 0-2, Djurisic 0-3). Fouled Out_Coleby, Saiz. Rebounds_Mississippi 40 (Newby 10), Georgia 41 (Thornton 11). Assists_Mississippi 7 (Henderson, Summers 3), Georgia 9 (Frazier 3). Total Fouls: Mississippi 29, Georgia 21. Technical: Georgia Bench. A: NA.