For a while there, I thought the first line of this posting was going to be, "Georgia played the same danged game on Wednesday night the Hoop Dogs have played all year," but that wouldn’t have been fair, even had the Red and Black come up short. It was particularly inaccurate after the Georgia Bulldogs played their best game of the season against legitimate opposition to defeat the Tennessee Volunteers, 57-53, in overtime.
The Fox Hounds held a 15-10 lead midway through the first half of the defensive struggle and clung to a 27-24 edge at the break, thanks to eight Georgia points off of as many Tennessee turnovers and the Bulldogs’ ability to match the visiting Volunteers with a dozen points in the paint apiece. Four-for-four shooting from the free throw line aided the Classic City Canines’ cause, affording them the advantage at intermission, even though the home team had been out-rebounded (20-17) and hit only a little over one-third of its shots from the field (11 of 32) in the opening 20 minutes.
The Big Orange took a one-point lead on a Jeronne Maymon jump shot three and a half minutes into the second period, and the seesaw battle continued into the closing seconds of regulation, when a five-point Tennessee lead with six minutes showing on the game clock was whittled down by the Red and Black, finally culminating in the Gerald Robinson layup that tied the contest at 46 with 18 seconds remaining.
Maymon scored the first points of the extra period on another jumper, but Nemanja Djurisic snarled the score once more with a pair of free throws to record two of his eleven points of the evening. Maymon got the assist on the Skylar McBee trey that afforded the Vols their final lead of the night, but that 53-52 advantage was erased on a Kentavious Caldwell-Pope swipe followed by a Donte` Williams layup. Robinson put the game on ice by draining two from the charity stripe, and Caldwell-Pope drove the final nail into Tennessee’s coffin with the free throw that marked his ninth point of the game.
Robinson led the Bulldogs with 16 points while going four of four from the line, and he added six rebounds, five assists, and a steal. Marcus Thornton, back from injury, contributed 23 minutes to the cause, while Williams matched Djurisic with eleven points and augmented that performance by pulling down eight boards. Mark Fox drew a technical foul, which is no more to be held against him than Gene Hackman’s deliberate decision to get himself tossed from courtside in “Hoosiers.”
It is impossible to overstate how close this game was. Neither team ever led by more than five points. Each team found the bottom of the net on 22 shots from the field and on two shots from beyond the arc. The contestants were tied in points in the paint, with 28 per side, and the differentials were minuscule in most measurements: Tennessee led by one in rebounds (40-39), while Georgia held identical advantages in blocks (5-4) and steals (9-8).
The Red and Black used their opportunities to good effect, however, scoring 17 points off of 20 Tennessee turnovers and getting nearly three-fourths of their free throws to fall (11 of 15). While these Volunteers aren’t exactly world-beaters, neither are they pushovers, and a solid defensive effort coupled with an improved inside game made for about as good a win as these Bulldogs can claim. This was real progress, and I, for one, will take it.