LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – One blocked shot was all it took for Georgia to salvage an otherwise dreadful trip to Florida.
Trey Thompkins had 18 points and eight rebounds, and he swatted Kidani Brutus’ potential game-tying 3-pointer as time expired to help Georgia rally for a 61-58 victory over Manhattan on Sunday in the consolation bracket of the Old Spice Classic.
Travis Leslie added 13 points and 11 rebounds, and Gerald Robinson scored 13 for the Bulldogs (4-2), who squeaked out a win against an inferior opponent to avoid being the only team in the tournament without a victory.
“We can go back and get back in the lab and know that at least we left out of here with one win,” Thompkins said.
Brutus brought Manhattan (2-4) within two on a 3-pointer with 11.8 seconds remaining. Leslie missed a second free throw that would have put the game out of reach, giving the Jaspers one last chance to send the game to overtime.
Then Thompkins switched out on a pick-and-roll, and he blocked Brutus’ 3-point attempt to seal Georgia’s victory. Brutus finished with 16 points and George Beamon scored 14 points for a Manhattan team that was going for a huge early-season upset.
The Jaspers’ last victory over a Southeastern Conference opponent was a 75-60 upset over Florida in the first round of the NCAA tournament. They weren’t expected to do much this season either, picked ninth in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) in the preseason poll by the league’s coaches.
“We would like for this game and this tournament to be something to build upon,” Manhattan coach Barry Rohrssen said. “We brought our best effort today and then we competed. We want to take our experience and build upon it. We had a shot. We’re trying to piece together some new guys and some young guys. Hopefully good results will happen.”
For the Bulldogs, an ugly tournament had at least one bright spot.
Thompkins, Georgia’s leading scorer and rebounder and an All-Southeastern Conference pick last season, played in all three games and grew stronger with each contest. He had missed Georgia’s first three games with a severely sprained right ankle.
But this was hardly a performance the Bulldogs want to remember.
After a heartbreaking double-overtime loss to Notre Dame in the opener and another loss against No. 21 Temple, the Bulldogs tried to flex their muscles against lowly Manhattan. They didn’t exactly do so comfortably.
But just to end the tournament with a win was enough.
“That Manhattan win was one we needed just to get out of the sort of a daze we were in as a team,” Thompkins said.
Leslie took an alley-oop pass from Robinson late in the first half to give the Bulldogs a 35-24 lead. Georgia coach Mark Fox twice cleared his bench in the opening half in what turned out to be a premature move.
Manhattan would come roaring back by switching to a full-court press and mixing its zone defenses. By then, Fox was banging his clipboard and screaming at players during timeouts, and Georgia forward Jeremy Price even kicked over his chair on the sideline after being taken out of the game.
The Jaspers rallied with an 8-0 run capped by a 3-pointer by Beamon to take a 51-46 lead. But it was short-lived.
Fox called timeout late and motioned to his players to calm down. They did, found their game and Georgia was the one that came back to avoid a huge upset.
“We were just so frustrated with our play. They were just so frustrated they were drowning in their frustrations,” Fox said. “So I just wanted them to relax and realize they’re still a good team, even though they haven’t played well. We got to be able to fight through those times.”