Marshall Henderson clapped his hands several times and flashed a big smile as he headed to the locker room at halftime Saturday after a sizzling first half that put Ole Miss ahead by five.
The second half, the game and third place in the Southeastern Conference standings — at least for now — ended up belonging to Kenny Gaines and Georgia.
The Bulldogs had to go down to the wire, but notched their fourth straight victory, 61-60, to stand alone behind Florida and Kentucky in the SEC.
Georgia (14-10, 8-4 SEC) is in that surprising position after surviving the Rebels.
The Bulldogs withstood a late game flagrant foul call on a swinging elbow that conjured up memories of last year’s loss to Ole Miss and got the winning point with 1.5 seconds to go before an announced sell-out crowd of 10,523 in Stegeman Coliseum.
That came from guard Charles Mann who drew a foul and swished his second free throw after his first bounced off the rim.
Gaines was the big story after the sophomore guard scored 21 points, including 19 in the second half after Henderson scored 14 of his game-high 24 in the first.
The 6-foot-3 Gaines twice blocked the 6-2 Henderson, but said he definitely enjoyed going 5 of 8 from 3-point range even more.
“I told him that I felt like I was getting a little Marshall Henderson syndrome,” Gaines said after a game he made 6 of 11 from the field. “He kind of chuckled.”
Fans were on the demonstrative Henderson 40 minutes before the game but they had to wait to see him play.
Henderson didn’t start because coach Andy Kennedy said he was “trying to change his mojo,” in road games.
The player that leads the SEC in 3-point shooting buried three 3-pointers in a span of two minutes and finished 6 of 13 from the field, including 5 of 11 on 3s. He was 7 of 7 from the foul line
The game was filled with swings of emotions. Georgia trailed by 11 at 26-15 with 4:18 to go in the first half and leading by 11 at 53-42 with 6:01 to play.
The high stakes in the standings meant both teams brought extra effort, Georgia coach Mark Fox said.
Ole Miss (16-9, 7-5) lost its third in the last four games, damaging its NCAA tournament hopes.
“We got a chance to be in third place,” Fox said. “When you’re playing head to head with a team you’re tied with it’s going to be a battle.”
Henderson was shut out for the first 14 minutes of the second half but scored 10 in under four minutes, including a pair of free throws that put Ole Miss ahead 56-55 after Georgia forward Marcus Thornton (7 points, 11 rebounds) was called for a flagrant foul with 1:55 left for an elbow to Henderson after he grabbed a defensive rebound.
“I was pretty mad,” Thornton said. “I think the play went on a little too long but there’s nothing I can do about that. I’m just glad we were fortunate enough to come out with the win.”
Fox on what went through his mind: “Some things are better kept to myself, I guess. The game’s impossible to officiate right now with the rule changes. Every play could go either way. That play they got a chance to look at on the replay so they probably got it right.”
Fox said he probably should have called a timeout “to rescue” Thornton on the play.
Georgia lost 84-74 last season at Ole Miss after Gaines was also called for a technical for swinging an elbow against Henderson near midcourt when Georgia led by three with 2:57 left in regulation.
“That was a salty loss,” Mann said. “It was a close one and we wanted to get this one, especially because of what happened last year.”
Gaines set a career high with five 3-pointers, matching Henderson who went 5 of 11.
Gaines was one-point away from his career-best in scoring despite sitting out the final 10:15 of the half with two fouls.
“Give him credit, all the credit for keeping his composure and coming out in the second half and playing extremely well,” Fox said.
Guard Jarvis Summers scored in the lane with 33.2 seconds to go and completed a three-point play to tie the game at 60.
Mann dribbled down the clock and drew a foul after pump-faking and leaning into center Dwight Coleby.
He missed his first free throw with 1.5 seconds to play but made the second.
“I kept on believing in myself and had a lot of confidence and just knocked down the second one,” said Mann, who scored 17 points and went 12 of 16 from the line.
Former Georgia guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the NBA lottery pick, was at the game during the all-star break.
He complimented Gaines on his shooting afterwards, telling Gaines he reminded the Detroit Piston of himself with the Bulldogs.
Fox was just as complimentary of his defense.
“Every day last year, he had to guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and deal with that every day,” Fox said. “Now he’s taking those lessons from a year ago and using them to his advantage.”
The Bulldogs play four of their final six regular season games on the road, starting Tuesday at Tennessee.
“We’re in third place now,” Mann said. “We can’t just stop here. We’ve got to keep on pushing.”
Notes: Caldwell-Pope presented a game ball to Fox in a pregame ceremony to mark his 200th career win last week. … Fox said only guard J.J. Frazier was still affected by the stomach bug that went through the team this week. Frazier had a turnover and no points six minutes. … The one-point win was Georgia’s smallest margin of victory of the season.