Georgia coach Mark Fox said the suspension of two players before the game against Florida was “a major distraction” for the team.
“It was a perfect storm in that way,” Fox said of Florida’s 77-44 thumping of the Bulldogs on Wednesday. “We didn’t play well at all and got beat by a good team. We needed to come home and regroup and get back to work.”
Georgia’s loss to the No. 11 Gators — “The World’s Largest Indoor Blowout”, ESPN’s Bram Weinstein called it — was its largest loss to Florida since 1967. It was also Georgia’s most lopsided defeat in any game since losing 76-42 to Illinois on Dec. 6, 2008 in Dennis Felton’s final season.
Junior forward Donte’ Williams and freshman guard Kenny Gaines will return today from one-game suspensions for the 1:45 p.m. game against Mississippi State at Stegeman Coliseum.
“They didn’t do anything malicious,” Fox said. “They just behaved in a way that was unacceptable, so I suspended them for a game.”
Williams served his second suspension of the season.
Not only did he have to sit out the Southeastern Conference opener, but he also sat out against Jacksonville and Youngstown State.
Williams was arrested for possession of marijuana in Atlanta last May, but the charges were dropped.
Fox held him out the first two games because he said Williams wasn’t as “responsible as I wanted him to be in life, period.”
This time Williams and Gaines were suspended after Georgia (6-8, 0-1 SEC) had gained some momentum with a four-game winning streak.
“It’s very disappointing to have to do that, but right is right,” Fox said. “We’re trying to make men out of young men. It was distracting, but it’s behind us.”
The loss of Williams was compounded by the fact that forward Marcus Thornton remains out indefinitely following arthroscopic knee surgery.
“We just never got comfortable,” sophomore forward Nemanja Djurisic said.
Thornton has battled knee injuries throughout his time at Georgia. His return this season is uncertain, but he’s not expected during the first part of conference play.
“I have no clue yet,” Thornton said. “No timetable. I really don’t know.”
The 6-foot-9, 225-pound Williams production is down this season in points (7.8 to 5.7) and rebounds (5.1 to 4.8) per game, but he’s still third on the team in scoring and second in rebounding.
Djurisic’s also has seen his rebounding (4.2 to 4.0) and field goal percentage (40.5 to 36.1) dip.
“I thought our early struggles in November, those two guys were not nearly as productive as they were at the end of the year a year ago and not nearly as productive as we planned on them being,” said Fox, who said both have shown “signs of life” in recent weeks. “I think Donte’s struggles could be largely attributed to the fact that they know he’s a great offensive rebounder and they’re paying attention to him. He’s not getting the offensive rebound, putback or dunk that he got a year ago because I think people have seen that on tape and they’re trying to take that away from him.”
Djurisic said both he and Williams need to step up their games.
“I’m a sophomore and he’s a junior,” Djurisic said. “We’re experienced. We played the most games in the paint last year and we need to bring more leadership to this team and lead the right way.”
Mississippi State (6-7, 1-0) got by South Carolina 56-54 on Wednesday, but the other Bulldogs present about as good a chance for a win for Georgia on paper in the early portion of the conference schedule.
Mississippi State was picked to finish last in the 14 team conference and lost to Alabama A&M 59-57 on Dec. 30.
“I told our guys we had to get over the public embarrassment of that loss,” first-year Mississippi State coach Rick Ray said.
Mississippi State has seven healthy scholarship players available. Managers and coaches have had to be used during practice.
“There may be a team that’s younger than us in the nation, but there’s no team that’s more inexperienced than us in the nation,” Ray said.
Georgia hopes there won’t be any carryover from what happened against Florida.
“Are we mature enough to be able to do that?” Fox said. “I’m not sure we’ll know that until we play.”