Posting a winning record in Southeastern Conference play is nothing to gloss over with a history like Georgia in men‚Äôs basketball in the last quarter century.
The Bulldogs fabulous February continued with 71-56 home throttling of NCAA tournament hopeful Missouri Tuesday night, ensuring they will finish above .500 in league play. That‚Äôs something only five other Georgia teams have done the last 26 years. That doesn‚Äôt include two seasons in 2002 and 2003 when wins were vacated by NCAA sanctions.
‚ÄúThat‚Äôs a compliment to our players,‚Äù said Georgia coach Mark Fox, whose other winning record in SEC play came in 2011 when the Bulldogs reached the NCAA tournament with NBA draft picks Travis Leslie and Trey Thompkins on the team. ‚ÄúThese kids have worked really hard, they‚Äôve stayed committed to the process and they‚Äôre doing it as a team.‚Äù
Georgia (16-11, 10-5 SEC) also surpassed its overall win total of each of the last two seasons and moved three games up for third place on Missouri (19-9, 7-8 SEC), which entered the day in a seven-way tie for fourth.
‚ÄúI‚Äôm satisfied now, yeah,‚Äù said forward Nemanja Djurisic, who said early in SEC play he thought that some didn‚Äôt think Georgia, picked to finish 11th in the league, would win any league games. ‚ÄúWe stuck together.‚Äù
The Bulldogs completed the season sweep of the Tigers, the third highest rated SEC team in the RPI at 45, and won for the sixth time in their last seven games helping Fox‚Äôs case to return for a sixth season.
Georgia held Missouri to 32 percent shooting and hit 52 percent of its shots.
With three games to go in the regular season, the Bulldogs are in a strong position to earn a double-bye in the SEC tournament for finishing in the top four after entering league play at 6-6.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs a matter of confidence,‚Äù said forward Marcus Thornton, who scored 15 points.
‚ÄúWe needed some adversity to become who we are now,‚Äù Fox said, ‚Äúand there may be more adversity coming. You have to use that to your advantage to grow.‚Äù
Georgia finished the first half with a flourish behind a pair of 3-pointer Djurisic and extended its lead 45-33 when starters Kenny Gaines and Donte‚Äô Williams checked back into the game with 11:27 to go after picking up third fouls in the first two minutes of the half.
Gaines 3-pointer with 7:35 made it 54-37 and the lead was 22 on a two-handed slam by Thornton (15 points) with two minutes to go.
The Bulldogs were led by Charles Mann‚Äôs 19 points.
Georgia had a three-point lead with under a minute to play in the first half after Djurisic missed a pair of free throws.
He was one of four Bulldogs players to combine to shoot 0 of 6 from the foul line in the first half, but Djurisic more than made up for it by hitting a 3-pointer with 50 seconds left and burying a 3 from about 23 feet to beat the buzzer.
Djurisic turned and threw his hands in the air and then got a chest bump from Brandon Morris after the Bulldogs opened a 31-22 lead.
‚ÄúIt was good to go into halftime with a little bit of a cushion,‚Äù Djurisic said.
Georgia held the 1-2 punch of guards Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson, who entered averaging 38.8 ppg, to 17 each on a combined 9 of 29 shooting.
‚ÄúWe did a great job limiting their open amount of shots,‚Äù Mann said.
Georgia made its first nine free throws of the second half.
‚ÄúWe just talked about stepping to the line and shooting them with some courage,‚Äù Fox said.
The tip didn‚Äôt come until 9:05 p.m. and the late start kept some fans away (attendance was listed as 5,229) considering both teams are fighting to get into a postseason tournament and position in the SEC standings.
The Tigers fell to 2-6 on the road in the SEC and dropped their second straight, damaging their resume with losses to teams at No. 118 in the RPI (Alabama) and No. 88 (Georgia). Missouri has reached five straight NCAA tournaments.
Georgia improved to 2-5 against RPI top 50 teams.
Both of the wins are against Missouri, which is the highest rated team to come to Athens this year during a season when the SEC‚Äôs unbalanced schedule didn‚Äôt send Florida or Kentucky to town.
‚ÄúWe haven‚Äôt had a chance to play a lot of top 50 teams in our building,‚Äù Fox said when asked if Georgia should be in the NCAA tournament conversation, ‚Äúand fortunately when we got a chance tonight, we were able to take advantage of it.‚Äù