Nemanja Djurisic snapped out of a rut to help keep Georgia on a roll.
The Bulldogs’ 6-foot-8 forward scored career-high 21 points off the bench as Georgia overcame a rocky second half to defeat Florida A&M 82-73 and win its third straight game on Saturday at Stegeman Coliseum.
“The truth is, I haven’t been playing as well as I can,” said Djurisic, who entered the contest averaging 6.5 points per game this season. “I was struggling the whole first part of the season, and (coach Mark Fox) was very patient with me and just told me to prepare and wait, and it kind of came back to me a little bit.”
The victory was also a confidence booster for the team, Djurisic said. The Bulldogs’ three in a row marks their best streak since they won five consecutive games leading into Southeastern Conference play this time last year. Georgia (5-7) hosts George Washington at 7 p.m. Friday before launching into SEC play Jan. 9 at Florida.
“We’re getting more mature,” Djurisic said. “We’re gaining confidence as a team. We’re playing better. We’re getting more experience from all the games, and we’re learning. … I would just like to keep this streak going into SEC and bring this confidence a little bit into conference play.”
The Bulldogs started like a team that knew how to win, keeping the Rattlers to the permitter and jumping out to an 8-0 lead.
But Florida A&M made the most of its opportunities, and while it never led, used six 3-pointers to score its first 18 points and came as close as two points to catching the Bulldogs at 22-20.
Georgia pulled away with a 15-0 run and took a 42-24 lead, its largest of the game, on one of Djurisic’s two 3-pointers with 4:07 remaining in the first half. In all, five Bulldogs scored during the spurt.
“Our defense was good, so we got some things in transition, and we made some 3-point shots,” Fox said of the first-half breakout. “I thought we spaced the floor really well. One thing we’re not … is selfish. We don’t have any selfishness on the team as far as no passing the other guys the ball and not taking shots we shouldn’t take.”
The run also saw Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who began the day as the Bulldogs’ and SEC’s leading scorer with 18.1 points per game, make his first field goal nearly 15 minutes into the game. He finished with 11 points and a team-best nine rebounds.
“He’s not going to be there every night, and tonight he wasn’t,” Fox said. “Fortunately, (Djurisic) came back and made some baskets, and we had a lot of guys finish some plays, especially there in the first half. It’s good to get some more guys scoring the ball.”
Caldwell-Pope said it was encouraging to see others step up when he was having a slow night.
“Seeing my teammates score the ball is great. We do need that a lot,” Caldwell-Pope said. “We need people to step up when I’m not making baskets or, even when I’m making baskets, we need people to score the ball.”
What momentum Georgia had built in the first half quickly evaporated after the break. Florida A&M scored 10 of the first 14 points in the second half to trim Georgia’s lead to 53-46 before the Bulldogs snapped back.
The Rattlers came as close as six points in the second half at 53-47 and twice made it a seven-point game, including once inside the final minute of play.
“We played pretty well offensively in the first half and we were just so immature that we obviously did not play well with the lead,” Fox said. “We’re just so immature in so many ways as competitors, as people, and that has to change
for us to become a good basketball team. I was disappointed in how we finished the game.”
The Bulldogs were sharp on free throws late in the game, though, scoring their final six points from the line and going 14 of 18 in the second half to finish the game 22 of 30.
“We’re getting better as a team,” Fox said. “You didn’t see it in the second half today. You probably saw some of it in the first half. But we’re getting better despite ourselves. We’ve got a long way to go, but we’ve made some progress.”
BOX SCORE — GEORGIA 82, FLORIDA A&M 73
FLORIDA A&M (4-8)
Adams 5-18 0-0 12, Lewis 2-9 0-0 4, Teal 3-6 4-7 10, Bradshaw 3-9 1-2 9, Davis 1-1 0-4 2, Fabiyi 0-0 0-0 0, Bullard 1-2 4-6 7, Abdul-Aleem 7-14 0-0 16, Kellum 4-9 1-2 9, Badejo 1-2 0-0 2, Odi 0-3 2-4 2. Totals 27-73 12-25 73.
Caldwell-Pope 4-10 3-4 11, Mann 2-8 4-5 9, D. Williams 3-5 0-0 6, Morris 3-5 3-6 10, Florveus 2-3 0-1 4, Dixon 1-2 2-2 4, V. Williams 1-3 1-2 4, Gaines 0-2 2-2 2, Brantley 3-3 0-0 9, Cannon 1-3 0-0 2, Djurisic 6-14 7-8 21. Totals 26-58 22-30 82.
Halftime—Georgia 49-36. 3-Point Goals—Florida A&M 7-26 (Bradshaw 2-5, Abdul-Aleem 2-6, Adams 2-9, Bullard 1-1, Lewis 0-5), Georgia 8-16 (Brantley 3-3, Djurisic 2-3, Morris 1-1, V. Williams 1-2, Mann 1-3, Gaines 0-1, Caldwell-Pope 0-3). Fouled Out—Florveus. Rebounds—Florida A&M 45 (Abdul-Aleem 11), Georgia 41 (Caldwell-Pope 9). Assists—Florida A&M 11 (Bullard 4), Georgia 17 (V. Williams 4). Total Fouls—Florida A&M 24, Georgia 18. A—6,149.