For the first time all season, the Georgia men’s basketball team has built some momentum on the won-loss ledger.
The Bulldogs used a strong second half to beat Southern Cal 64-56 on Saturday at Stegeman Coliseum and win back-to-back games for the first time this season.
“We had a real struggle at the start of the season,” Georgia freshman guard Charles Mann said. “We played a lot of road games. Now we’ve kind of hit our stride. We feel a lot more confident with how things are going.”
Georgia beat Mercer 58-49 on Tuesday and USC on Saturday. The Bulldogs next play at home against Florida A&M on Dec. 29. Georgia had not won back-to-back games since the 2011-12 regular-season finale and the first game of the Southeastern Conference tournament. USC (4-8) has now lost eight of its last 10 games, including two in a row.
“It’s great,” Georgia freshman forward John Cannon said. “We came in expecting to win. So this is a great feeling to get one and go home for Christmas. It helps us move forward and gives us more confidence for the next few games.”
Georgia trailed by one at halftime. But it put together a 12-2 run to start the second half to take the lead, and the Bulldogs (4-7) held the lead the rest of the game. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope figured heavily into the run with 10 of Georgia’s 12 points.
“We wanted to give the team an early Christmas present,” Caldwell-Pope said. “We wanted to go out there in the mindset to go out there and play hard and get us a win. We wanted to push the ball to start the second half. We figured they were getting tired the way they were showing the body language. So we tried to push it and give some easy baskets in transition.”
Caldwell-Pope had a jumper and tip-in to start the half for Georgia. After Brandon Morris hit a layup, Caldwell-Pope ran off a layup and a jumper to give Georgia a 39-30 lead with 16:16 left. After USC’s Omar Oraby tipped in a bucket to pull the Trojans within 39-32, Caldwell-Pope hit another jumper.
“I just felt comfortable with my shooting,” Caldwell-Pope said. “I felt like I couldn’t miss out there. Basically, I just felt comfortable with my shooting.”
Caldwell-Pope hit 10 of 14 from the field scored 19 of his game-high 25 points in the second half. Morris and Cannon each scored 10. Charles Mann scored nine with six assists.
Although Georgia held the lead through most of the second half, it couldn’t shake USC. The Trojans pulled within 47-45 with 10:50 left on a tip-in by Aaron Fuller. But Caldwell-Pope immediately hit a 3-pointer to push the Bulldogs’ advantage to 50-45. At the 10:11, mark Oraby hit a pair of free throws to pull the Trojans within 50-47. But Cannon hit a pair of free throws and Georgia’s lead never fell below two possessions again.
“If our guys want to see what an NBA player looks like, that’s him (Caldwell-Pope),” USC coach Kevin O’Neill said. “He’s a little short for a two-guard. But hopefully he’ll be able to become the knockdown shooter that he is. But he played a great game. Without him, we had a great chance to win the game. But we didn’t win the game and that’s seven of eight (losses).”
NOTEWORTHY: Fox said that forward Marcus Thornton has reinjured a knee and is out “indefinitely”. … Georgia had 11 turnovers in the game and out-rebounded USC 33-32. … USC’s bench outscored Georgia’s 28-8. … Nemanja Djurisic only plaed six minutes and had three turnovers. … Georgia held USC to 5 of 19 (26.3 percent) shooting for from the 3-point line. … USC only hit 7 of 15 (46.7 percent) from the foul line.