Forward Nemanja Djurisic paced Georgia with 13 points off the bench in its 52-46 victory over conference foe Texas A&M on Saturday.
Djurisic, a sophomore from Podgorica, Montenegro, began the season in a starting role for Georgia (12-11, 6-4 Southeastern Conference), but has recently started the majority of his games on the Bulldogs’ bench.
Georgia head coach Mark Fox said that’s a place where Djurisic is comfortable playing from.
“I think he’s comfortable in that role,” Fox said. “I told the coaches (Friday) that that’s the best I think Nemi (Djurisic) has looked all year. He hasn’t been that way all year, but now I think he’s feeling better physically.”
Djurisic agreed with Fox that he has put in a lot more effort at practice recently due to his shift in roles. Djurisic said this effort has helped him become a better player over the past few weeks.
“Sometimes I feel like I have to prove that I have to get back into the starting lineup, but I just want to do as much as I can to help the team,” Djurisic said. “Whether it’s coming from the bench or starting, I’m just contributing to the team as much as I can.”
Djurisic had to step up his point production tonight due to an absence in the scoring column from sophomore guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Caldwell-Pope, the reigning SEC Player of the Week, averaged 19.5 points per game in Georgia’s past two victories, but accounted for just two in tonight’s first half. Djurisic said he likes having a different scoring leader in each game.
“He’s been struggling a little bit. I think he has a little bit of a cold,” Djurisic replied when asked about Caldwell-Pope. “But it’s great that we’ve had so many people scoring in each game. Everyone rebounds and contributes the same amount. Sometimes it’s him (Caldwell-Pope) and sometimes it’s someone else, and that’s what I like about this team.”
Djurisic logged 12 minutes in the first half. In those 12 minutes he hit 2 of his 3 shots from the field and made 4 of 5 free throws to finish the first with a total of eight points. Djurisic said he’s playing well off the bench now, but it wasn’t an easy transition at first.
“In a short period of the year I’ve had to adjust to playing off the bench because that’s what the coach (Fox) believes is best for the team and I took it well,” Djurisic said. “It’s nice to have the whole bench contribute to the wins, especially recently.”
The success Djurisic referred to is Georgia’s current five-game win streak. Georgia extended that streak tonight against the Aggies, and Djurisic said the most consistent area for the Bulldogs throughout the streak has been defense.
“I think defense is our best strength,” Djurisic said. “I think we’ve been playing well defensively and I think we’ve been stopping a lot of teams.”
Djurisic was a huge factor for Georgia in the second half, accounting for the Bulldogs’ only made field goals in the first 10 minutes. He showed off his versatility by stepping outside the arc to nail a 3-pointer early in the second half. The shot gave Georgia a 28-18 lead with just under 17 minutes to play in the game, and it also instilled a noticeable amount of confidence in the oversized outside shooter. Djurisic said he’s comfortable taking that shot even though he hasn’t practiced it much lately.
“Recently I haven’t been shooting as much and I kind of lost confidence, but it’s coming back,” Djurisic said. “With the whole team hitting threes the whole time it just makes it easier.”
Fox said Djurisic will have to improve his ball control if he plans to unleash his full potential, but for now he’s starting to put the pieces together.
“If he can become a little more trustworthy with the ball I think he’d be dynamite,” Fox said. “Because he’s a good passer he thinks he’s Tom Brady, but he’s really comfortable in that role now so he’s playing well.”
This is the first Georgia men’s basketball team in 12 years to win five SEC games in a row. Djurisic said the coaching staff never lost confidence in the team during its shaky start.
“Coach (Fox) and everyone all trusted in us,” Djurisic said. “They all believe we can do it and we can make a run. I know we had a rough start, but we kind of got confidence and we’re a much better team now.”
The winning streak has improved Georgia’s confidence as a team, and Djurisic said it gives the Bulldogs high expectations as they approach each game.
“We expect to win and we come into the game mentally focused,” Djurisic said. “Coming out and playing as hard as we can gives us a little bit of confidence and we know how to deal with it now.”