Georgia’s school-kids special turned into a showcase for the Bulldogs youngsters.
Freshmen and sophomores were the top scorers as Georgia beat Mercer 58-49 on Tuesday at Stegeman Coliseum in front a raucous crowd that included about 4,000 local elementary school students.
“It definitely sounded different,” Georgia guard Kenny Gaines said. “It was a different feel. When we first went out there, I turned around to Vincent Williams and told him how different it felt with all those little kids out there screaming. It reminded me of my whole childhood. It was fun to get a chance to play in front of little kids and give them a nice little show.”
Sophomore Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored a game-high 17 points and grabbed nine rebounds for Georgia (3-7). Freshman Charles Mann had 10 points and seven rebounds while Gaines scored eight to help Georgia break a three-game skid. Mercer (6-6) was led by Anthony White Jr. with nine points.
“Charles is still young but he’s really getting comfortable,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. “Kenny Gaines came in today and had a couple of good baskets. I don’t think today was a day when you relied on one guy. Kentavious was very patient today and had some other guys help him. I think John Cannon was really nervous getting his first start and never really seemed to calm down. I don think we’re starting to see more guys get comfortable scoring the ball. Do we have a designated second and third guy yet? Probably not but at least we have some guys making progress.”
Fox started three freshmen — Cannon, Mann and Brandon Morris. Gaines came off of the bench to score his eight points in 11 minutes. The game was close throughout. Georgia led 26-20 at halftime but Mercer scored seven straight to start the second half and took a 27-26 lead on a 3-pointer by Langston Hall with 17:47 left. Georgia re-took the lead on a pair of free throws by Nemanja Djurisic on the next possession and never trailed again.
“We really wanted to get back on track and win again,” Gaines said. “The losing streak has kind of affected us a little bit. But we wanted to stay strong as a team and be able to play through it. We’re starting to put some things together. We felt like that last game. Now we’re trying to build upon it.”
Although Georgia held the lead through the 15:51 of the game, Mercer wouldn’t let the Bulldogs pull away. Mercer went 27-11 last season and has a road win against Florida State (61-56) this season. Georgia finally put the game away by hitting 9 of 10 from the free-throw line and Mann hit a dunk in the last 4:05.
“Mercer is a good team,” Mann said. “We had a tough schedule in the beginning with hard teams when we were trying to come together. This win gives us confidence. We feel good about it and we’re ready to get on with the next one.”
The shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary weighed heavily on the minds of Georgia’s players and coaches. The students who attended Saturday’s game were about the same age as the victims in Connecticut.
“After what happened in Connecticut, you can’t look at those kids the same,” Fox said. “I have kids that go to elementary school. I can’t imagine what some of those families are going through. So often in this country we lose sight of the things that are most important. I was late getting in here (postgame press conference) because I was lecturing our team about becoming educated men. When we have a chance to help the kids in our community, we should do it. We don’t do it enough, any of us. So today did feel different. I hope those kids had a great time because they certainly added a lot of energy to the building.”
The game tipped off at 11:30 a.m. to accommodate Clarke County elementary school students who attended the game. The kids were in fine voice as they produced the loudest crowd of the season.
“It touched our hearts when we heard it had happened,” Mann said. “We just wanted to come out and play good and get the win for the kids in Connecticut. … We’re not used to that type of crowd. It was really pleasant to see all those kids in light of what happened last week.”
The noise the children produced sounded much more shrill and high-pitched than the normal basketball crowd. When Caldwell-Pope hit a breakaway dunk for the first bucket of the game, the noise level felt like it could blow out eardrums.
“When we came out there were a lot of kids excited to see us,” Caldwell-Pope said. “We were excited to put on a show for them and get the win. I heard it after the dunk. It gave us a lot of motivation to go out there and play hard through the game and win. It felt great. It felt good to have support.”
NOTEWORTHY: All three of Georgia’s wins have come against Atlantic Sun competition. Jacksonville (68-62), East Tennessee State (54-38) and Mercer. … Georgia held Mercer to 16 of 51 (31.4 percent) shooting. … Georgia out-scored Mercer 20-14 in the paint and out-rebounded the Bears 35-25. … Georgia hit 13 of 16 (81.3 percent) from the line and 7 of 12 (58.3 percent) from the 3-point line.
T. Smith 2-6 0-0 4, Thomas 0-4 0-0 0, Gollon 2-12 0-0 6, Hall 3-9 0-0 7, Coursey 3-9 2-2 8, Canevari 1-2 0-0 3, Hallice 2-3 0-0 5, White Jr. 2-3 4-4 9, Moten 0-0 0-0 0, C. Smith 0-0 0-0 0, L. Brown 0-0 0-0 0, Bryan 0-1 0-0 0, M. Brown 1-2 5-6 7. Totals 16-51 11-12 49.
Caldwell-Pope 5-10 5-6 17, Mann 3-7 4-6 10, D. Williams 0-3 0-0 0, Morris 0-0 2-2 2, Cannon 0-3 0-0 0, Thornton 1-3 0-0 2, Dixon 0-1 0-0 0, V. Williams 1-2 0-0 3, Gaines 3-5 0-0 8, Brantley 2-2 0-0 6, Florveus 2-3 0-0 4, Djurisic 2-5 2-2 6. Totals 19-44 13-16 58.
Halftime — Georgia 26-20. 3-Point Goals — Mercer 6-26 (Gollon 2-8, White Jr. 1-1, Canevari 1-1, Hallice 1-2, Hall 1-7, Bryan 0-1, T. Smith 0-3, Thomas 0-3), Georgia 7-12 (Brantley 2-2, Gaines 2-3, Caldwell-Pope 2-5, V. Williams 1-1, Mann 0-1). Fouled Out — None. Rebounds — Mercer 25 (Gollon 6), Georgia 35 (Caldwell-Pope 9). Assists — Mercer 12 (Gollon, Hall 3), Georgia 12 (Mann 5). Total Fouls — Mercer 18, Georgia 13. A — 8,650.