It was not exactly a clash of the titans when Mark Fox’s Georgia Bulldogs took on the USC Trojans in Stegeman Coliseum on Saturday afternoon. Southern California came in winless on the road and with seven losses on the season. The Classic City Canines came in at .500 at home, also with seven losses on the season. When the resistible force met the movable object in Athens, the Red and Black managed to come away with a second straight victory, this time by a 64-56 margin.
The Men of Troy went on the offensive early, notching their first bucket 14 seconds into the contest and holding a 5-0 lead after two and a half minutes before a John Cannon layup, a pair of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope free throws, and a Charles Mann foul shot snarled the score following five minutes of play. One minute later, it was 7-7, thanks to a Trojan jumper and two Mann makes from the charity stripe.
Though Kenny Gaines answered J.T. Terrell’s trey with a three-pointer of his own, USC led, 14-10, as the game neared the halfway point of the opening period. Cannon connected on two free throws and dropped in a layup to make the score 18-18 with seven minutes remaining until intermission. A 7-1 Trojan run put the visitors up, 25-19, with three and a half minutes to play in the half, but the Fox Hounds responded with jumpers by Gaines and Caldwell-Pope, then a layup by Mann, to tie the game anew with 87 seconds left. The Athenians headed to the locker room trailing by a 28-27 margin.
Southern Cal shot better than 40 per cent from the field (11 of 27) in the first half, but the Men of Troy managed only two of six shots from the free throw line. The erratic Bulldogs hit nine of 24 from the field while draining eight of ten foul shots. The visitors doubled up their hosts (16-8) in bench points in the opening 20 minutes, whereas Georgia’s 4-0 lead on fast breaks contributed to a 12-10 edge in points in the paint. Each team logged 17 boards before the break.
The Red and Black got off to a hot start in the second half, taking their first lead on a Caldwell-Pope jumper and adding to their advantage with Caldwell-Pope and Brandon Morris layups to build up a five-point edge 72 seconds into the period. Caldwell-Pope tacked on a layup and a trio of jump shots to put the Athenians up, 41-32, with just under 15 and a half minutes remaining in the game.
Though Caldwell-Pope had the hot hand, Coach Fox chose to rest him, likely in anticipation of the need to stave off a late-game fade, and USC used that opportunity to go on a 9-4 run during which Morris accounted for all of the Bulldogs’ points. Caldwell-Pope came back in and drained a pair of free throws, but, thanks in part to less than stellar play by Nemanja Djurisic, the Georgia lead was down to 47-45 with 10:49 showing on the game clock.
Though Caldwell-Pope buried one from beyond the arc to put the Athenians back up by five, the Men of Troy used a pair of Omar Oraby free throws to narrow the gap to 50-47. Cannon answered with two made foul shots of his own, and, whether due to solid Georgia defense or poor Southern California offense, the Red and Black were out in front, 54-49, as the clock ticked below seven minutes. A Mann layup and a couple of Morris free throws pushed the Georgia advantage to seven points with four and a half minutes left.
Oraby’s trips to the charity stripe enabled the Trojans to cut into the Bulldogs’ lead, cutting it to 60-55 at the three-minute mark. Due to less than exemplary shooting by both teams, USC failed appreciably to shrink the deficit and Georgia failed fully to put the Californians away, but, in the end, Mann closed it out with a last-minute layup to register an eight-point Bulldog win.
Southern California offers a more notable name, though likely not a more capable team, than the Mercer Bears, but, at this stage, the Fox Hounds will take a win wherever, however, and from whomever they can find one. Caldwell-Pope led the team with 25 points and five rebounds, while Cannon and Morris contributed ten points apiece. Cannon also pulled down seven boards, and Mann added nine points, four rebounds, six assists, and two steals. A great team this is not, but, at long last, it at least is starting to look like a squad that has heard of the game of basketball.