If Georgia is going to be playing in the NCAA tournament in March, Trey Thompkins thinks the Bulldogs will need to start finishing off more games like the one they found themselves in on Tuesday night against a quality team in Xavier.
Xavier guard Tu Holloway (52) scores against Georgia forward Jeremy Price (50) in the first half Tuesday. Below, Georgia’s Trey Thompkins towels off his face after fouling out in the second of Tuesday’s loss.
The Bulldogs battled the Musketeers for much of their nonconference tilt, but the visitors pulled away late for a 65-57 victory before 7,627 in Stegeman Coliseum.
"It’s important because when tournament time comes, these are the type of games they look at and see which games we’ve won, which games we’ve lost," said Thompkins, the Bulldogs junior forward. "We’ve got to have some wins on our résumé so that we can have some respect when that time comes."
The Musketeers (17-6) are ranked No. 24 in the RPI, the type of win the Bulldogs would have loved to add to their victories earlier this season against Kentucky and UAB.
It was there for the taking in a back-and-forth game that included 14 lead changes between tournament hopefuls, but the Bulldogs struggled offensively in the second half. They then lost Thompkins when he fouled out with 2:42 to play, trailing 54-50.
A replay indicated he was pushed on the play when he was called for fouling Tu Holloway, who hit a pair of free throws to increase the lead to six.
"I was pushed in the back, I feel like, and I fell to the ground," said Thompkins, who scored a team-high 14 points, grabbed nine rebounds and blocked four shots. "It happens."
Georgia coach Mark Fox drew a bench warning moments later after Gerald Robinson was called for an offensive foul on the other end. Fans were livid, too, throwing towels towards the court.
Asked about the back-to-back fouls, Fox shook his head and said, "It’s just the breaks of the game. That’s all I’ve got to say about that."
Georgia (16-7) lost for the third time in its last five home games, albeit all three were against top-25 RPI teams. Tennessee (a loss at the buzzer) and Florida (in double overtime) were the other losses.
Georgia is now 2-7 against teams in the top 50 of the RPI.
"We’ve beat quality teams, too," said Fox, who scheduled Xavier to add another top-25 caliber program to the schedule "Just because all of our losses have come against good teams doesn’t mean that we can’t beat a good team. Kentucky is a good team. OK? UAB was a good team. OK? Arkansas (105 RPI) is a good team and we beat them in the last minute. … It’s not that we have some major problem against these teams late, because we beat some of them."
Travis Leslie, Dustin Ware and Gerald Robinson each scored 10 for Georgia, which took a 37-32 lead after a Ware 3-pointer with 14:42 to play before Xavier opened a 43-39 lead.
After Georgia tied the game at 44-44, the Musketeers pulled ahead 52-46 lead on a pair of free throws from Holloway, who scored all of his game-high 18 points in the second half and went 11 of 11 on free throws.
The Bulldogs shot 9 of 28 in the second half (32.1 percent) after hitting 12 of 26 (46.2) in the opening 20 minutes.
Fox said Xavier keyed in on Thompkins after he made 5 of 7 from the field in the first half. He was held to just 1 of 5 shooting in the second half.
"They did a nice job trying to keep him off his spots and running help at him," Fox said. "And he missed some good looks."
Georgia made just 2 of 13 from 3-point range.
Xavier, which has made nine of the last 10 NCAA tournaments, including in 2008 when it beat Georgia in the first round, enhanced its chances to get into what this year is a field of 68.
"It was one we needed," Xavier second-year coach Chris Mack said. "You never want to make too much of it prior, but we wanted to make sure that everyone knew we were a hard-fighting team."
The Bulldogs can only hope that Holloway turns out to be right when he said that Georgia "is going to go to the tournament and win some games."
The Bulldogs’ seven remaining SEC regular-season games – a road game at South Carolina is next on Saturday – and the conference tournament will help determine that.
"It’s not the end of our season," Robinson said. "We’ve got a lot more conference games to come. It would have been a great win, but now it’s over, so we’ve got to out it behind us and we need to go pick up some more great wins in the conference."