Auburn, Ala.-The Georgia Bulldogs, a team battling for a spot in the NCAA Basketball Tournament, almost got swept by the Auburn Tigers, but strong free throwing shooting and rebounding allowed UGA to escape Auburn Arena with a 64-61 victory on Saturday.
The loss on senior day extended Auburn’s losing streak to six-in-a-row, dropping the final regular season record to 12-19 overall and 4-14 in the SEC.
The Bulldogs improved to 20-10 with an 11-7 record in SEC play.
“Give Georgia credit,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “They made shots, they made shots, they made shots.”
The Bulldogs made enough shots with the game on the line in the closing minutes to overcome an Auburn lead that was up to as many as seven points with 13:53 to play. UGA hit 20-40 field goals, 5-10 threes and 19-21 free throws.
“We got open shots and some of those open shots we didn’t make,” said Pearl, who joined his assistant coaches and players in standing at the exits to thank fans for their support throughout the season.
Commenting on his first Auburn team’s regular season, the coach said, “The only thing I have been able to accomplish is we have been able to teach them to compete,” he said. “I haven’t been able to teach them to win and I have got to do a better job.”
The Tigers missed open three-point shots in the final minute from K.T. Harrell and Jordon Granger. “I loved K.T.’s look from the corner,” Pearl said. “Jordon is unguarded at the top of the key. I am okay with both of those.
“I didn’t like the last look I got K.T. with 4.9 (seconds to play). What am I going to do, not put it his hands and not let him take it.”
Harrell, in his final home game, scored 24 points. He hit 6-17 shots, 4-13 threes and 8-8 foul shots. He dished out four assists and had just one turnover.
Cinmeon Bowers scored 11 points and added five rebounds, but was 1-4 at the foul line. With a chance to tie the game with two foul shots with six seconds left, the junior made just one of two.
Cinmeon Bowers plays defense against Georgia's Cameron Forte.
Georgia’s J.J. Frazier hit two free throws a second later for the final margin of victory as Harrell’s desperation shot was off target.
The team’s other senior, Antoine Mason, was not present because he attended his father’s funeral on Friday in New York. Pearl said after the game that he is hoping the guard will be back for Auburn’s contest on Wednesday evening in the SEC Tournament.
K.T. Harrell's family was with the guard at Saturday's Senior Day ceremonies prior to the game.
The Bulldogs dominated the boards, holding a 34-20 rebounding advantage That trumped Auburn’s 21-9 advantage in points off of turnovers.
The game was close throughout. UGA never led by more than three points. Bulldog coach Mark Fox said it was a “hard fought SEC game,” and added, “Bruce has done a great job with his team. They really competed. Our team had to battle a little bit, but we leave here feeling like we got a really good win.”
Auburn hit 21-51 field goals for 41.2 percent, 9-29 threes and 10-18 free throws. Auburn turned the ball over nine times while Georgia did it 17 times.
Two of Auburn’s missed free throws were by freshman guard T.J. Lang with the game tied at 60-60 with 1:44 left. Mann hit two free throws 12 seconds later to put the Bulldogs up for good.
Halftime Numbers: UGA led 31-28 at intermission thanks to a 19-10 rebounding edge, 50 percent shooting from the field and going 3-3 on treys. Auburn took four more shots (11-26 for 42.3 percent). Harrell led Auburn at the break in scoring with 10 points.
After the game Harrell said the Tigers got a lot of good shots, especially down the stretch when the game was on the line. “They just didn’t go in,” he said. He added, “We had a couple of defensive breakdowns towards the end of the game and that is what sort of lost us the game.”
Harrell, the SEC's leading scorer, said, “I was proud of everybody--the effort man. I am thankful for the fans coming out.”
Worth Noting, Part 1: UGA’s Fox said he voted for Harrell for first team All-SEC, stating the Auburn senior is a great player and good person.
Worth Noting, Part 2: The Tigers will play Mississippi State in the opening round of the SEC Tournament at 6 p.m. CST on Wednesday. “With the exception of Kentucky, there is not a team in that tournament we can’t beat,” Pearl said.
Asked about why the seven-two freshman did not see action, Pearl said he is sending “a message” to the center. “Trayvon weighed in at 236 this morning--that is a high. He is working really hard at physically developing. My only thing is I want more, I do want more, and he knows that. He has handled the decision for me to put Devin in front of him. I am want more. You have got to get bigger and you have got to get stronger, and you have got to compete a little more and he is handling it.”
Pearl added that he told Reed the way he is playing isn’t good enough to be a factor in the SEC, but expects that to change next season.
Up Next: The Tigers will head to Nashville to play Mississippi State in the opening round of the SEC Tournament on Wednesday. AU is the 13th seed and lost to the Bulldogs at Auburn Arena during the regular season.
“We will take Sunday off and then we will come back on Monday and practice Monday and Tuesday morning, and then we will travel to Nashville on Tuesday," Pearl said. "We are going to pack a lot of clothes.”