Facing the red-hot Vanderbilt Commodores on the road in perhaps the only facility in all of sports that affords its tenants a more outrageous home field advantage than the Metrodome provided to the Minnesota Twins during World Series play, Mark Fox’s Georgia Bulldogs put their best and worst on display on Saturday afternoon, ultimately dropping a 77-66 decision to fall to 0-3 in SEC action in a game that was closer than the final margin indicated.
Scrappy play by the Red and Black kept the visitors in the contest throughout the day. After the Hoop Dogs took a 19-14 lead on a jump shot by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope with nine and a half minutes remaining in the first half, the Commodores took a 36-32 lead into the locker room. In the remarkably even opening 20 minutes, both teams drained three of nine shots from beyond the arc, turned the ball over six times, pulled down 14 rebounds, and got a half-dozen points from the bench.
The Athenians shot slightly better from the field in the first half, hitting twelve of 25 two-pointers while Vanderbilt poured in eleven of 24. Georgia held a small halftime edge in points off of turnovers (9-8), while the Commodores led, 16-12, in points in the paint. The home team would distance itself from the guests in a variety of ways after intermission, but one area in which there was a significant first-half disparity in favor of the Music City Mariners was at the free throw line, where Vandy had eleven of 13 shots fall. The Fox Hounds managed just five of eight from the charity stripe in the initial 20 minutes.
After the break, the Commodores held the advantage in every area, shooting almost 60 per cent from the field (10 of 17), out-rebounding the Bulldogs (21-13), outscoring the visitors in the paint (16-4), and hitting 19 of 31 from the charity stripe. Notwithstanding a foul disparity exacerbated by the Classic City Canines’ need to send their hosts to the free throw line late in the contest, the fundamental problem was in the vicinity of the basket: Vanderbilt drove inside, and Georgia didn’t. As a result, the Bulldogs were forced to launch 18 heaves from beyond the arc in the final 20 minutes, just five of which found the bottom of the net.
The Commodores maintained a narrow lead of around six points for much of the second half, but the visitors did not go quietly. Caldwell-Pope cut the shortfall to 40-39 when he scored three of his 19 points with 17 minutes remaining in the game. Another Caldwell-Pope trey two minutes later tied the game at 42, and yet another a minute after that put the Fox Hounds ahead, 45-44. After a Dai-Jon Parker layup allowed Vandy to reclaim the lead, though, Caldwell-Pope missed a three-pointer, Parker pulled down the defensive rebound, and the Commodores never thereafter relinquished the advantage.
Though Vanderbilt pulled away late due to Georgia’s need to foul in desperation time, the home team led by only four points with just 67 seconds showing on the game clock. Donte` Williams, like Nemanja Djurisic and John Florveus, collected five fouls over the course of the contest, but the sophomore forward also contributed a dozen points, joining Caldwell-Pope and Gerald Robinson in double-figures.
Obviously, the team must be given considerable credit for hanging tough with a quality conference foe on the road. At the same time, the usual issues of on-court discipline, poor shot selection, and lack of an inside presence continue to hound this team. It’s unfair to call this the same old stuff on a different day, but progress is slow and time is short. With four of the next six games in Athens and the next road game at Auburn, the Red and Black had better get to winning soon if they plan to do any winning at all.