Just getting Marcus Thornton back from injury provided encouragement for Georgia.
But Thornton’s career scoring high in the Bulldogs’ last game might have signaled better times ahead for both the player and his team.
“It feels good to finally get back and play again,” Thornton said. “But what really felt good was how we played the game as a whole. That’s what made the game fun for everybody — the way we were winning and the way we dominated the glass and the way we played defense. That was really the exciting part.”
Georgia (11-12, 2-7 Southeastern Conference) goes on the road to face 20th-ranked Mississippi State (19-5, 6-3) at 1:45 p.m. today in Humphrey Coliseum in Starkville, Miss. The Bulldogs are coming off of their second conference win of the season, an 81-59 thrashing of Arkansas on Wednesday in Stegeman Coliseum.
“We needed a game like that (against Arkansas),” Thornton said. “It was one of those games where everything was just kind of clicking on all cylinders. We finally had that night and we look to continue to build off of it.”
Thornton missed five games, including the first three SEC contests, with a knee injury. He had struggled since his return, missing all eight of his field-goal attempts. But much of that changed against Arkansas when he hit 4 of 4 from the field and scored a career-high 10 points.
“That was a big lift for us, having Marcus back,” Georgia forward Donte’ Williams said. “He’s a big presence for us in many ways. His rebounding and his defensive presence is what we really needed. Those times we didn’t have him, you could kind of see it on the court. Teams shot pretty well and they had a pretty high-percentage game. I think his presence will really mean a lot to us.”
Thornton, a 6-foot-7, 235-pound sophomore forward, could have missed Wednesday’s game. His knees hurt so badly after Tuesday’s practice, that Georgia coach Mark Fox considered sitting Thornton to give him a chance to rest.
However, Thornton didn’t have much doubt about whether or not he would play on Wednesday.
“It hurt pretty bad, but I don’t think it was enough to the point where I wasn’t going to be able to play. Every now and then I’m going to have a day like that where everything’s hurting. But you have to suck it up and keep going.”
Thornton started and hit his first field goal, a 3-pointer, against Arkansas. He also had five rebounds and a blocked shot in 18 minutes of play.
“He needed that,” Fox said. “He’s had such a tough year with his knees. He had maybe his best practice of the year on Monday, but on Tuesday he was in agony. I told him, when you get days like this, we’ve just got to shut it down. On Tuesday, he was about as sore as he’s been all year, so for him to come out and play as well as he did on Wednesday, I think, was good medicine for him.”
Georgia has played with a thin frontcourt all season. Thornton went down with his knee injury during Christmas break and missed five games. He returned and played five more games before the breakout effort against the Razorbacks.
“He can guard a three (small forward) and he can guard a four (power forward), so he can help us out a lot on defense,” Williams said. “I know that he felt confident. I know that he’s been battling his knee. But I think the more games he plays and the more comfortable he feels on the court, the better he’s going to feel.”
Georgia at Mississippi State
WHEN/WHERE: 1:45 p.m. today/Humphrey Coliseum, Starkville , Miss.
RECORDS: Georgia (11-12, 2-7 Southeastern Conference); Mississippi State (19-5, 6-3).
PROBABLE STARTERS: Mississippi State — F Renardo Sidney (Jr., 6-10, 285, 10.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg); F Arnett Moultrie (Jr., 6-11, 249, 17.0 ppg, 11.0 rpg); G Dee Bost (Sr., 6-2, 176, 15.8 ppg, 5.1 apg); G Rodney Hood (Fr., 6-8, 204, 11.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg); G Brian Bryant (Sr., 6-3, 168, 6.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg). Georgia — F Marcus Thornton (So., 6-7, 235, 2.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg); F Donte Williams (So., 6-9, 220, 7.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg); G Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (Fr., 6-5, 200, 14.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg); G Gerald Robinson (Sr., 6-1, 180, 14.1 ppg, 3.8 apg); G Dustin ware (Sr., 5-11, 172, 8.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg).
SERIES: Mississippi State leads 52-50.
LAST MEETING: Georgia won 86-64 in Athens last season.
SEASON AT A GLANCE: Georgia snapped a four-game losing skid with an 81-59 win against Arkansas on Wednesday. Mississippi State bounced back from a road loss at Florida to win two in a row (91-88 over Auburn and 70-60 over Ole Miss).
NOTEWORTHY: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope ranks second among SEC freshmen in scoring after Florida’s Bradley Beal. … Georgia averages a league-low 10.6 turnovers a game. … Dustin Ware needs 68 points to reach 1,000 for his career. … Georgia had two starters set career scoring highs against Arkansas — Thornton (10 points) and Robinson (27 points). … Mississippi State’s Dee Bost had a career-high 13 assists against Ole Miss. … Mississippi State’s Arnett Moultrie hit 18 points against Ole Miss to give him 1,008 for his career. Moultrie is also a finalist for the Oscar Robertson Trophy, which is given annually to the nation’s top player.