BATON ROUGE, LA. | After Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines turned in their latest memorable performances, the celebratory hollers of the Georgia Bulldogs could be heard through the door to the visitors‚Äô locker room at LSU‚Äôs Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
The Bulldogs didn‚Äôt need to beat the Tigers to secure a top-four seed and coveted double-bye in next week‚Äôs Southeastern Conference tournament, but their motivation was more personal than that, and it showed on Saturday.
Mann had 22 points and 10 rebounds, Gaines buried six of seven 3-point attempts on his way to 20 points, and Georgia took home 69-61 triumph that spoiled LSU‚Äôs senior day.
‚ÄúWhat our guys are excited about is we tied for second place in the league and not very many people outside of that room believed that was going to happen,‚Äù Georgia coach Mark Fox said.
Indeed, Georgia was forecast to finish 11th out of 14 teams in the SEC‚Äôs preseason poll. Instead, the Bulldogs (18-12, 12-6 Southeastern Conference) racked up their most conference victories since the 13 they amassed in 1990.
‚ÄúThey‚Äôve been very committed to the process and so I think they‚Äôre just excited that they‚Äôve had some success,‚Äù Fox said of his players.
Although Georgia finished tied with Kentucky in the league standings, the Wildcats won the head-to-head tiebreaker to earn the second seed in the tournament in Atlanta. Still, Georgia is looking strong after winning four of its last five.
‚ÄúWe are a really confident team,‚Äù Mann said. ‚ÄúWe believe in each other and the system.‚Äù
Senior guard Andre Stringer led LSU (18-12, 9-9) with 22 points in his final home game.
‚ÄúSenior day was an important day, but I was more concerned with my team and moving forward, and getting a win before the SEC tournament,‚Äù Stringer said. ‚ÄúWe can‚Äôt do anything about it now. We have to put it behind us and move on.‚Äù
LSU freshman Jarell Martin added 13 points for the Tigers, but Georgia limited LSU leading scorer Johnny O‚ÄôBryant III to five points ‚Äî about 11 points below his average ‚Äî while snapping the Tigers‚Äô seven-game home winning streak.
‚ÄúWe were double teaming him. We kept him guessing,‚Äù Mann said. ‚ÄúOn the offensive end, we just wanted to be aggressive and get him in foul trouble.‚Äù
And they did. O‚ÄôBryant was called for his third foul less than two minutes into the second half and committed his fourth foul with 6:30 left.
LSU will be the seventh seed in the SEC tournament and get a first-round bye before opening Thursday night against No. 10 seed Alabama. Georgia won‚Äôt play until Friday night.
With about 14 minutes left at LSU, the Bulldogs opened up a 12-point lead when Nemanja Djurisic spun out of a nifty post-up move for an easy layup that made it 47-35. The basket capped a 9-0 run comprised of Djurisic‚Äôs first three baskets of the game and Gaines‚Äô 3.
LSU responded with seven straight points, highlighted by senior Shavon Coleman‚Äôs 3, to trim it back to 47-42. But Georgia‚Äôs Donte Williams snapped the run with a dunk in transition and LSU never got closer than five points again.
Georgia dominated in some key statistical categories, outshooting LSU 47.9 percent (23 of 48) to 36.4 percent (20 of 55) and outrebounding the Tigers 37-29.
‚ÄúThey made some deep shots. I mean, they made some NBA-type 3s,‚Äù LSU coach Johnny Jones said of the Bulldogs. ‚ÄúThey shot a high percentage, and that‚Äôs hard to overcome.‚Äù
Neither team led by more than four points in a close first half that included 10 lead changes.
Stringer provided nearly half of LSU‚Äôs offense during the opening 20 minutes, when he had 13 points including three 3-pointers.
Georgia shot 52.4 percent (11 of 21) in the first half, with Gaines making four of his first five shots for 12 points.
But the Bulldogs hurt themselves with some early ball-handling blunders. Of their 16 turnovers in the game, they committed 13 in the first half.
The Tigers led 28-24 after O‚ÄôBryant‚Äôs jumper, but failed to score again during the last 2:39 of the half. Georgia, meanwhile, put together a 6-0 run, highlighted by Gaines‚Äô 3, to put the Bulldogs up 30-28 at halftime.