Neither snow nor icy roads could keep Vanderbilt from continuing its winning ways against Georgia on Wednesday night.
The Commodores made it nine in a row against Georgia with a 59-54 victory in Stegeman Coliseum before 6,234, including an impressive student turnout despite the winter storm that hit a day earlier.
Georgia’s shooting touch on offense didn’t turn up, and coach Mark Fox and his players were critical of the approach the Bulldogs brought to the game.
The Bulldogs (10-9, 4-3 Southeastern Conference) were 4 of 23 from 3-point range, with three of those made in the final 57 seconds.
“We didn’t have enough spirit to begin with so that contributed to both ends of the court,” said junior forward Marcus Thornton, who was 1 of 7 shooting. “I‘m not exactly sure what was behind it. I don’t know if it was snow, the weather changed it, we just didn’t have it today, spirit-wise, and that’s disappointing because you can always control that.”
The Bulldogs shot a season-low 27.3 percent from the field.
“Our players got what we deserved, we got whooped,” Fox said. “Not whooped, we got beat, but we didn’t play well. Can’t shoot the ball, can’t rebound like that, can’t defend like that and win a game.”
Georgia sorely missed shooting guard Kenny Gaines, their second leading scorer, who missed his second straight game with a thigh bruise.
“Kenny’s not cleared to play,” Fox said. “It’s probably worse than we thought and he’s not progressed to the level where they’ll clear him. We can’t put the kid at risk.”
In his place, freshman Juwan Parker got just his first SEC start.
Parker, who missed the Kentucky game Saturday with a strained hamstring, was held scoreless, going 0 of 10, including 0 of 5 on 3-pointers.
“Trust me, I won’t forget it,” Parker said. “It will just motivate me. I might get in the gym tonight, get some shots off. I’ve got to hit something before I leave the gym. … Some nights you just have a bad night and it went from bad to worse.”
Parker said Vanderbilt switching from man to zone defense threw off his rhythm.
“He shouldn’t forget tonight,” Fox said. “Tonight happened. We’ve got to own up to it and we’ve got to start shooting the ball in. It’s not that hard a skill.”
Said Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings: “Our defense is the thing that won us this game.”
Georgia didn’t help by jacking up 3-pointers from the get-go.
Fox called his team “weak-minded” for taking 12 of 25 shots in the first half from 3-point range and said his team didn’t “seize” the chance to run.
“We’ve got to go back to being aggressive and stop settling,” said guard Charles Mann, who scored 15 of his game-high 20 points in the second half.
Travel issues delayed Vanderbilt’s arrival until the early afternoon Wednesday, but the Commodores (11-8, 3-4) got hot from behind the line to go on a 10-2 run and open a 22-14 first-half lead, hitting 5 of its first 10 from 3 and finished 8 of 18.
A 3 from forward Rod Odom (16 points, 12 rebounds) with 3:22 left pushed the Vanderbilt lead to 44-36.
Georgia trailed by as much as 10 in the first half and 27-21 at intermission, but drew even at 28 with 17:23 to go on a Thornton inside score after Mann accounted for five points early in the second half. The Bulldogs couldn’t keep up with the Commodores who got a pair of dunks from 6-foot-7 forward James Siakam to help keep Georgia at bay.
The second largest student attendance of the season — 1,914 — took advantage of a chance to get in free and were urged by Fox in a morning tweet to come out to support the team in the weather.
Also in the crowd: former Georgia All-American defensive end David Pollack, university president Jere Morehead and Bulldogs tailback Todd Gurley.
“I feel like we let the crowd down today,” Thornton said. “We had a lot of people come out, especially a lot of students and that’s what we hoped for, but we just didn’t come to play.”
The game wasn’t televised on CSS as originally scheduled because most of the crew couldn’t get to Athens due to road conditions in Atlanta.
That made this the first Georgia SEC game not to be televised since the Vanderbilt game in Athens on Feb. 25, 2009, but the game was streamed on the UGA athletics website.
The Commodores flew into Atlanta on Tuesday night, but flew out again to Greenville, S.C., to spend the night due to the gridlock on Atlanta’s roads.
They made it to town before 1 p.m. Wednesday, but scrapped their shootaround. Even the original officials couldn’t make the game due to travel issues.
Georgia lost for just the second time in 11 home games this season. The Bulldogs play next on Saturday at SEC winless Auburn.
“We’re going to look forward to a bounce back,” Mann said.
Marc Weiszer: firstname.lastname@example.org