Mississippi Valley State’s combination of frees and threes nearly proved to be lethal, but a furious second-half comeback allowed Georgia to escape with a 72-70 victory in its 2010-11 opener at Stegeman Coliseum.
The Bulldogs (1-0), playing without All-Southeastern Conference selection Trey Thompson, trailed for nearly 17 minutes of the second half.
Senior forward Jeremy Price finally scored eight of a possible nine points on three field goals and two free throws with slightly more than two minutes remaining to give Georgia a 67-66 lead, its first advantage of the period.
But the Delta Devils (0-1) would not go away, retaking the lead at 68-67 on a jumper by D’Angelo Jackson with 1:50 remaining. Travis Leslie then scored a layup off an assist by Connor Nolte and Gerald Robinson made 1 of 2 free throws after a Mississippi Valley turnover to put the Bulldogs up by three. Delta Devil Orlando Smith countered with two free throws with 10 seconds remaining to pull within one, but Dustin Ware’s free throw with 8.9 seconds left put Georgia back up by two.
The Delta Devils had one final possession, but Kevin Burwell’s layup attempt didn’t fall and Leslie leaped high above the crowd in the lane to allow the Bulldogs to escape with the victory.
“I thought we really got outplayed,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. “I was disappointed in our rebounding and I was disappointed in how we defended the 3. You’ve got to give (Mississippi Valley) credit – they made a lot of contested shots. When they got hot, it carried their team.”
Mississippi Valley made 10 of 17 3-point attempts, was 16 of 18 from the free-throw line and outrebounded Georgia 41-31. The Bulldogs shot 49 percent (25 of 51) from the field and were 3-for-8 (37.5 percent) on 3-point attempts.
But Price’s inspired play late in the game gave Georgia a much-needed push in the home stretch.
“It just happened,” Price, who finished with a team-leading 20 points, said. “The team needed somebody to step up and make some plays and I guess it was just my time.”
“(Price) gave us a lot of momentum,” Robinson, who finished with 19 points, added. “We knew we had to get the ball in the paint because our jump shots just weren’t helping us out. We had to go inside to finish.”
Georgia trailed by as many as seven points with three minutes remaining, but a stingy defense and Price’s late outburst proved to be the difference.
“It was basically about getting a defensive stop,” Price, who also had five rebounds and three blocked shots, said. “We didn’t play well defensively until the moment of truth. Rebounding killed us and put us deep in a hole.”
Mississippi Valley went in at the half ahead 37-36, largely due to its dead-eye aim from beyond the arc. Jackson hit a trio of 3-pointers that pushed his team from a 12-9 deficit to a 15-11 advantage with 13:40 remaining.
“It’s frustrating when you contest shots at the 3-point line and they still go in,” Robinson said.
The Bulldogs had their share of 3-pointers as well, as Robinson Jr., Ware and Nolte hit consecutive treys to put Georgia back up 21-15 with 10:27 remaining.
With four minutes remaining in the half, Leslie was fouled attempting a layup, and Mississippi Valley was subsequently whistled for a technical foul. Ware stepped up to the line and hit both of the technical-foul shots and Leslie followed with two free throws, giving the Bulldogs a 34-29 edge.
But 3-pointers by Ricky Lamb and Jackson in the final minutes of the half gave Mississippi Valley the surprising lead at intermission.
Although they didn’t attempt a single free throw in the first 20 minutes, the Delta Devils shot 7 of 10 from beyond the 3-point area and recorded 14 points off Georgia’s 11 turnovers.
Mississippi Valley had four players finish in double figures — Jackson (16 points), Burrell (12 points), Terrance Joyner (11 points) and Darian Donald (11 points). Leslie followed Price and Robinson with 16 points, including 4 of 4 shooting from the foul line.