As appreciative as I am of Mr. Sanchez’s kind compliment following last night’s postgame writeup, honestly, it’s pretty easy to do justice to a game like that. It was a night game on an otherwise slow sports day, which allowed time to set the stage beforehand, and it ended in a "Hoosiers"-style story of redemption against a team the Bulldogs had beaten previously. Frankly, any hack can handle an assignment like that.
It’s a different deal, though, when the game takes place on a busy sports day and is against a senior-laden opponent to whom the Georgia Bulldogs lost twice in regular-season play, then is delayed because the previous game went to overtime, then opens with Marcus Thornton being called for two fouls in the first 84 seconds, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope running down the court checking to see if his nose is bleeding, and the Vanderbilt Commodores going on an 11-3 run. That, my friends, is when writing a postgame recap becomes a bit of a challenge.
During the TV time out with 14:46 remaining in the first half, though, the Hoop Dogs decided to help a blogger out and Mark Fox demonstrated that he is, in fact, a capable game day coach. The Red and Black made stops; John Jenkins was forced to settle for unsuccessful three-point attempts; Gerald Robinson made a layup, which is what he is supposed to do; John Florveus turned a rebound into an assist when Dustin Ware banged home a trey; and, by the time the clock showed eleven minutes left until intermission, Georgia had forged an 11-11 tie in their shaky season’s eleventh hour.
The Bulldogs, bedeviled by foul trouble straight out of the gate, turned to their bench, sending Sherrard Brantley, John Cannon, Tim Dixon, and Florveus onto the floor, yet a young Red and Black squad welded together out of spare parts surged ahead of an experienced unit of upperclassmen, taking a 19-18 lead inside of six minutes and heading to halftime up, 25-24, thanks to a 17-0 scoring advantage held by the Georgia reserves over their Vanderbilt counterparts.
Then, alas, the second half started, and Thornton committed two fouls and missed two free throws in the first three and a half minutes after the break, and Coach Fox was forced to take a time out after the Commodores had taken a 36-27 edge. The margin remained nine with a dozen minutes remaining in the game, but it had ballooned to 13 by the time the clock crept below the eight-minute mark. The Music City Mariners, who are projected as a seven seed in the NCAA Tournament, relentlessly kept hammering mercilessly away until the deed was done, and the final tally of the second-half bludgeoning came to 63-41.
Just as the story of the Kentucky game was the talent disparity, the story of this game was the experience deficit. Jenkins is a junior, and Festus Ezeli, Lance Goulbourne, Jeffery Taylor, Steve Tchiengang, and Brad Tinsley all are seniors; those six players include all five Commodore starters, and together they accounted for 53 of the victors’ 63 points.
The Bulldogs, meanwhile, gave meaningful playing time to Caldwell-Pope, Cannon, Dixon, and Nemanja Djurisic, all freshmen, and to Thornton and Donte` Williams, both sophomores. Those six included four starters, and, despite the uphill battle they faced, they played hard, and they played with heart, and, as a result, this loss, like the loss that ended last season, left me more hopeful for the future than depressed about the present. When was the last time Georgia fans felt good about the direction of the men’s basketball program in the aftermath of consecutive campaigns, without ESPN and NCAA investigations looming or a coach about to be poached?