Georgia endured a horrid start. Just like its men’s basketball season did.
Living through a 1-4 record in November isn’t much fun. Neither was being down by as much as 26 points on your home court in March.
A Georgia team that finished tied for second in the Southeastern Conference was being run out of its own gym in the second round of National Invitation Tournament Saturday.
Louisiana Tech was the far superior Bulldogs from the get-go of a game that tipped at 11 a.m.
Georgia ended up making a game of it, but its season came to an end with a 79-71 loss at Stegeman Coliseum.
It was a hard-to-swallow way to go out in a season that will be remembered by most for the gains made in January, February and March moreso than a game on the fourth Saturday in March.
“What I told the players, ‘It’s hard to understand today because you lost the game.’ But I thought they restored a great deal of pride in Georgia basketball,” coach Mark Fox said. “To win 20 games, to finish second in the SEC, to advance in the postseason, I think they did some things that they should feel good about. We should all feel good about it. I’m not happy with how we played today and I’ll probably never get over that, but I do think this team did a lot of really positive things. The support from our fans, I think, showed that they appreciate it, too.”
Second-seeded Georgia (20-14) got as close to 75-71 on a 3-pointer from J.J. Frazier (career-high 15 points, 4 of 7 on 3s) with 16 seconds left. Guard Alex Hamilton (20 points) added two free throws for third-seeded Louisiana Tech and forward Michale Kyser a dunk to seal the win.
That masked how bad things were for Georgia for much of the game before its rally.
Fox had burned four timeouts by 7:24 left in the first half with his team trailing 39-13 in the nationally televised game and used his last one with 17:09 left with Georgia down 50-29 after having trouble getting the ball across midcourt.
Conference USA regular season champions Louisiana Tech (29-7) scored the game’s first eight points and opened an 18-2 lead just five minutes in the game. It made 7 of its first 9 shots and forced six turnovers in the game’s first five minutes.
Georgia couldn’t handle the visitors’ pressing and traps.
“We were in a great rhythm in doing what we do best,” Louisiana Tech coach Michael White said, “creating turnovers and turning those turnovers into points.”
Georgia finished with 19 turnovers, three away from tying its season-high.
At one point Georgia had 11 turnovers and 13 points in the game and finished the first half with 13 turnovers and 10 made field goals.
“We knew it was coming,” Fox said of the pressure. “We just didn’t respond well. Sometimes you get beat. Give their kids credit. They had us disrupted and they were shooting every ball in.”
Guard Charles Mann had seven turnovers for the second straight game.
“I just didn’t play well,” said the sophomore, who scored 13 points and had six rebounds. “I didn’t take care of the ball at the beginning at all. I’ve just got to do a better job of that.”
Louisiana Tech made seven of its first eight 3-point attempts and led by as much as 26 at 39-13 on a layup by Cordarius Johnson (12 points) with 7:27 left in the first half.
Georgia’s first 3-pointer didn’t come until 14:45 to play from Frazier as Georgia made a 7-0 run to cut the lead to 16.
It kept coming, eventually trimming the deficit in the final 4:27 to four points, but fell to 15-3 at home this season before a spirited crowd of 3,692.
Georgia couldn’t make up all the ground it gave up by falling behind by so much.
“We gave up three 3-point shots on something we covered yesterday, we covered this morning and we covered in the pregame,” Fox said. “Mentally, we just weren’t as attached as you have to be to beat a good team.
Added forward Brandon Morris: “Just not dialed in. We could kind of tell out of the gates that a lot of players’ heads weren’t in it and it showed early.”
Louisiana Tech advances to a third-round NIT game against either Florida State or Georgetown.
Georgia now looks towards next season.
“We progressed a lot this year,” Mann said. “We know the sky’s limit. I’m looking forward to next year and what we’ve got coming back.”
Georgia returns all but senior forward Donte’ Williams.
Fox is expected back for a sixth season after his job security was a question when entering league play 6-6. Georgia finished six games over .500 after going 15-17 the previous two seasons.
“I’m an awful loser, but I’m also smart enough to see the big picture,” Fox said. “There’s some things we can look back on and say if we’ll approach this right we can get better and take the next step.”