With freshman Brandon Morris starting in place of the injured Marcus Thornton, Mark Fox’s Georgia Bulldogs were back in action against the Iona Gaels on Saturday afternoon. A disconcertingly thrilling outing ensued, as the Red and Black were lucky to hold the narrowest of leads at the break before falling, 81-78, in overtime.
The first half was a trey-fest from start to finish, with the visitors hitting six of 17 from beyond the arc to the home team’s four of nine shooting from way downtown. Iona opened with a three-point jumper ten seconds into the contest, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope answered with a long jumper of his own to make it 3-3 45 seconds into the game. Another Gael three-pointer put the visitors up, 18-8, with thirteen and a half minutes remaining in the opening half.
The combatants traded treys and free throws---each team missed one from the charity stripe in the initial 20 minutes---until Iona held a 30-23 edge just inside the five-minute mark. It was then that the Fox Hounds went on a run, starting with a Donte` Williams dunk off a Nemanja Djurisic miss from outside the arc. The comeback was cemented with a Caldwell-Pope half-court three-pointer at the buzzer to turn a 35-33 deficit into a 36-35 halftime lead.
The Gaels retook the lead on a Lamont Jones steal and a Tavon Sledge layup in the opening 30 seconds after intermission, but Djurisic snarled the score anew with a free throw. Iona moved back out in front on a Sean Armand jumper and another Sledge layup, then Charles Mann tied it up with a pair of foul shots and a jumper. Morris added a free throw, a dunk, a layup, and an assist to make the score 48-41.
Jones and Armand answered to pull the Gaels even with the Bulldogs with twelve minutes to play, after which an Armand trey put Iona ahead, 51-48. Inside the ten-minute mark, Jones knocked down the three-point jumper that gave the visitors a six-point cushion, but Georgia responded with free throws to pull within 56-53 a minute later. Missed treys by Sherrard Brantley and Caldwell-Pope kept that margin unchanged until the latter made a tip shot off of a pair of Morris misses.
Jones drained a pair of free throws and dropped in a layup to make it a five-point game, but a jumper, a free throw, a rebound, a steal, and a layup by Caldwell-Pope, plus a Mann two-pointer, put the Red and Black ahead, 62-60, with four and a half minutes showing on the game clock. A Morris layup made the margin four points, then an A.J. English three-point jumper cut the Bulldogs’ lead to one with three minutes remaining.
Williams tipped in a Mann jump shot to extend the Athenians’ advantage to three points with two and a half minutes to go, after which English and Armand both attempted unsuccessful shots from beyond the arc. A Red and Black rebound required the Gaels to foul Morris with 71 seconds to play in regulation, and the freshman missed both shots, enabling a Sledge rebound, a Jones assist, and an Armand trey to tie the game at 66 points per side with 54 ticks left on the clock.
A comedy of errors ensued, as Georgia managed a series of misses in the vicinity of the basket until Iona finally came down with a defensive rebound in the closing seconds. English tried to bang down the game-winner from way downtown, but the shot failed to fall, and the contest proceeded to overtime, where English made the three-pointer that offset Mann’s free throw and Tim Dixon’s layup to forge a 69-69 deadlock with four minutes of extra time remaining.
Many misses followed, including a jumper from outside the arc by English and multiple tries from the charity stripe by Mann, but jump shots by the Gaels gave the visitors a 73-70 edge as the clock ticked down to two minutes in the first overtime period. Caldwell-Pope thereafter missed two free throws, but, when Armand subsequently came up short on a foul shot of his own, a Williams rebound led to a Mann layup on which the scorer drew a foul. Mann’s shot from the charity stripe generated a 73-73 draw with 98 seconds showing on the scoreboard.
Jones made a jump shot, Williams made a free throw, and Iona was up, 75-74. Jones’s next miss ended in the Morris rebound that Kenny Gaines turned into two points, moving the Hoop Dogs out in front by one. Curtis Dennis banged down a trey with 19 seconds to play, then he fouled Williams, who proceeded to make one of his two free throws to leave the visitors ahead by one with ten seconds remaining. Gaines had no choice but to foul Jones, who sank the foul shot that made it 79-77 for the wrong team.
Armand fouled Djurisic, who hit one of his two tries from the charity stripe, so Williams had to foul Armand in return. The Iona guard sank both shots to end the game with the Gaels out in front by three. While it was encouraging and exciting that the Bulldogs overcame their initial deficit, the effort was not sufficient, and it ought not to have been necessary against the easiest portion of the Athenians’ schedule. This team is bad, it is not getting better, and I am starting to get the sinking feeling that the apex of the Mark Fox era is behind us, and that the end of that era is a good deal nearer than the beginning.