As anyone who’s been paying attention around these parts recently was well aware, tonight’s clash on the hardwood between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Alabama Crimson Tide was kind of a big deal. The Classic City Canines had the opportunity to extend the SEC’s longest winning streak on their home court in a nationally-televised Tuesday evening affray, but the Athenians failed to close the deal in Stegeman Coliseum, finally falling by a 52-45 margin.
The game began with both teams playing stout defense in a physical contest, with the early advantage going to Georgia as Alabama clanged long-range jump shots off the iron while the Fox Hounds opened up a 7-0 lead in the first five minutes on a Kentavious Caldwell-Pope trey and a pair of Nemanja Djurisic buckets. The Tide cut their deficit to two, but Djurisic extended the home team’s advantage with a jumper and a free throw. Kenny Gaines made it an eight-point game with a three-pointer as the clock ticked toward the twelve-minute mark.
Alabama then went on a three-minute run, fueled by free throws, Andrew Steele, and various guys named Trevor, that left the two teams tied at 15 with a shade over eight minutes left until halftime. The visitors took their first lead of the night a minute and a half later on a dunk by Retin Obasohan, who may or may not be a prescription drug whose side effects include night sweats, lower back pain, and bloody diarrhea, but Djurisic answered with a layup to snarl the score and a jumper to reclaim the lead for the Hoop Dogs.
The contest remained tight for the balance of the half, as Georgia led by one (19-18) with four and a half minutes left, then Alabama led by one (20-19) with just under three minutes to play, then Alabama led by one (23-22) with just under two minutes to play. The Tide headed to the locker room with a 25-22 advantage to their credit. The largely even first half saw both teams make nine shots from the field, including three from outside the arc, with the difference being Alabama’s four free throws to Georgia’s one.
At the break, the Bulldogs led in rebounds (20-14) and second-chance points (6-0), while the Crimson Tide were ahead in fast-break points (4-3) and points in the paint (12-10). Georgia had more turnovers in the first 20 minutes (7-4), but the Red and Black also had more points off of turnovers (8-7). The home team narrowed the gap with the first point of the second half on a Djurisic free throw two minutes after intermission, but a flurry of baskets on Rodney Cooper jumpers sparked a 6-2 ‘Bama run that ended with the visitors leading, 31-25, at the 16-minute media timeout.
A scoring drought then ensued, this time attributable more to weak offenses than to strong defenses. Almost five minutes elapsed, during which a Donte` Williams free throw accounted for the lone point tallied by either team. Thanks to a Trevor Releford trey, Alabama had opened up a 34-27 lead just past the halfway point of the final period, but a trio of Georgia foul shots cut the deficit to four 70 seconds later.
Shots rattled off the iron and bodies crashed into other bodies, both without apparent effect, but the momentum remained resolutely within the visitors’ possession as jump shots by Nick Jacobs and Trevor Lacey put the Tide ahead by eight points as the clock ticked under five minutes. Caldwell-Pope then decided to do something about that sorry set of circumstances, scoring seven points in a little over a minute on a layup, a trey, and a tip shot.
Williams gave Georgia a 41-40 edge with fewer than three minutes to play, but ‘Bama buried back-to-back three-pointers to build up a five-point lead. Missed free throws, poorly-timed fouls, and wasted offensive possessions made up the final minute and a half as the Bulldogs went down to defeat. The Red and Black had more rebounds (36-29) and assists (10-9), but fewer steals (6-8) and blocks (4-6). Caldwell-Pope poured in 22 points, aided by Djurisic’s twelve, but their teammates combined for eleven. Georgia was outscored by a larger margin in the second half (27-23) than in the first (25-22).
Two years ago, when the Fox Hounds twice could have assured themselves of an NCAA Tournament berth with a win over Alabama, Georgia came up short both times in games the Red and Black at one point had in hand yet allowed the Tide to take from them. Fortunately, the Bulldogs were invited to the Big Dance, despite the losses, but missed opportunities caused much uncertainty for the Classic City Canines. Tonight, the Athenians could have strengthened substantially their case for an NIT bid, but, after looking initially as though they were going to claim their sixth straight, they squandered the chance to do so. The Hoop Dogs might still make it, but the odds that they could and the argument that they should both took significant hits tonight.