Bulldogs victorious in return to court

After an 11-day exam hiatus since its last game, Georgia played Saturday’s first 15 minutes like a team just waking up from its post-finals nap.

Then the Bulldogs closed the first half strong and started the second half even stronger as they beat Arkansas State 68-59 at Stegeman Coliseum.

“We came out today kind of restless and ready to play,” Georgia forward Trey Thompkins said. “We were kind of tired of playing against each other. It was kind of like preseason again and we were tired of getting killed by each other. We wanted to play somebody else. Now that we’re out of that and we got a W, it might not have been the prettiest W, but we’re ready to move forward.”

Thompkins scored four points as Georgia went on an 11-3 run in the last five minutes of the first half. He scored five more as the Bulldogs started the second half with a 15-4 run. Thompkins finished with a team-high 15 points and seven rebounds.

“We were in the locker room huddle and I told the team we hadn’t played in a long time and it really just showed,” Georgia senior forward Chris Barnes said. “I told them we needed to come out and play hard and play Georgia basketball and just have fun, which is what we did in the second half when we went up by 20.”

Georgia (7-2) has not played a game this season decided by more than nine points. Georgia outshot Arkansas State 50.9 percent to 39.6 percent from the field.

The Bulldogs outrebounded Arkansas State 35-30. They forced 14 turnovers and had 20 assists, but couldn’t capitalize on two opportunities to blow the game open and make things easier in the final two minutes.

“We had two guys on the floor who made over a 3.0 GPA this semester who made some bitty-ball mistakes late,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. “We’ve got to have better concentration when you’re ahead.”

Georgia led by as many as 21 points in the second half, but Arkansas State got as close as seven points with a 17-7 game-ending run. A pair of free throws by Georgia’s Dustin Ware with 23 seconds left gave the Bulldogs their final margin of victory.

“When we get up, we need to realize that we’ve got to keep that lead,” Georgia guard Gerald Robinson said. “We need to step on their throat when we have the chance. We’ve got to play with that same defensive intensity that we started with because we can’t keep letting teams back in the game.”

Travis Leslie had 14 points and a team-high eight rebounds for Georgia. Barnes came off the bench to score a season-high 12 points with three rebounds and three assists.

Georgia threatened to open a big lead at the beginning when it scored on its first seven possessions. A driving layup by Robinson gave Georgia a 23-15 lead with 11:51 left in the first half.

Arkansas State immediately responded with a 7-0 run and pulled within 23-22 on a layup by Edward Townsel with 9:52 left in the first half.

“The one thing I am disappointed in is how we started the second half,” Arkansas State coach John Brady said. “We needed to come out with more energy. Overall, I was happy with the shot selection, but I can’t control if the shots go in. But I was impressed with the quality of the shots.”

Donald Boone led Arkansas State (3-7) with 14 points and Rashad Allison added 12 points.

Saturday began a run of three games in five days leading into Christmas break. Georgia hosts High Point on Tuesday, followed by a trip to Mercer on Thursday.

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@JeffSchultzAJC @SethEmerson @BizWriterKristi Less than 3 weeks until basketball opener. Not that we are counting down.

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