The new season for the Georgia men’s basketball team tipped off Friday night with a victory, but the reaction of the Bulldogs players afterwards told the story after they slid by Jacksonville 68-62 in Stegeman Coliseum.
They spoke in hushed tones with their heads hanging low at times.
It was fitting considering how coach Mark Fox viewed how his team played in the final 20 minutes.
“I didn’t think in the second half we played with much spirit,” said Fox, who improved to 4-0 in season openers at Georgia “I thought we were a little bit out of rhythm, but the important thing is we were able to win the game.”
Georgia won behind 14 points and 12 rebounds from forward Nemanja Djurisic and 17 points from guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
The Bulldogs had 23 turnovers—six more than its high last season—and made just 4 of 19 3-pointers.
Jacksonville, an Atlantic Sun Conference team that went 8-22 last season, shot 53.6 percent from the floor in the second half when it trimmed a 13-point lead with 5:31 to play 66-62 after a layup by Jarvis Haywood with 45 seconds left.
Djurisic and Sherrard Brantley each went 1 of 2 for the final 36 seconds for the final points.
Georgia, coming off a 15-17 season, didn’t make a field goal for the final 6:19 after Caldwell-Pope scored on a layup.
“As you can see it’s the first real game,” Djurisic said. “You could see it on the court. I don’t think the effort was really good in that second half and I think really we didn’t play defense as we know we can do. …There’s a lot of things we have to improve on.”
Fox used 11 players, but forward Donte’ Williams who started every game last season, did not play. He did go through warm-ups with the team.
“Donte’ didn’t play because I didn’t think he was responsible as I wanted him to be in life, period,” Fox said.
Williams was arrested and charged with possession of marijuana in Atlanta in May, but the case was dismissed on July 24.
Fox indicated Williams wasn’t suspended due to Georgia’s drug-testing policy, saying he “doesn’t have a substance suspension.”
“We’ll see,” Fox said when asked if Williams will play when Georgia returns to the court Monday night at 7 in Stegeman to play Youngstown State in the Legends Classic.
Without Williams, Georgia went the first 18 minutes without a single point from its top four scorers from last season.
Guards Gerald Robinson and Dustin Ware, first and third on the team last season in scoring, wrapped up their Bulldogs’ careers last March as seniors.
Caldwell Pope missed his first five shots and was held scoreless for more than 18 minutes before he scored six before the break including on a breakaway two-handed slam and 3-pointer from right side.
The sophomore had five steals and six rebounds, but finished 3 of 12 from the field and 10 of 12 on free throws.
“I think Kentavious had some moments when he looked like he was in the freshman class,” Fox said.
Georgia’s actual freshmen had quiet debuts.
Point guard Charles Mann had five points on 1 of 4 shooting with three assists. Guard Kenny Gaines was held scoreless on 0 of 4 shooting and Brandon Morris scored two points on a pair of free throws.
The game included 44 total turnovers and 45 total fouls.
“It was just kind of an ugly game,” Fox said. “The game just had no rhythm in the second half.”
Forward Marcus Thornton had four points and six turnovers in 16 minutes.
“There was no effort there,” Thornton said of the second half. “Sometimes we handcuffed ourselves with silly mistakes.”
Still, Fox said: “It’s a good opening win for us. We didn’t play very good. Their pressure bothered us. I didn’t have us prepared for the full court pressure. We haven’t worked enough against it, to be honest with you. I don’t have concerns that will be a long-term problem.”
Notes: Caldwell-Pope was selected Friday by the league’s coaches to the SEC preseason All-SEC first team, which had eight players on it. Caldwell-Pope is one of 50 on the preseason John Wooden Award watch list for nation’s top player. …The attendance was announced as 5,232. …David Richt, son of Georgia football coach Mark Richt, sang the national anthem.