Photography: Dakota Sumpter

Georgias Strong 1-2 Scoring Punch Overpowers Auburn In SEC Basketball Opener

Georgia's late push is too much for Auburn to handle in the SEC basketball opener at Auburn Arena.

Jared Harper (above) scored 11 points in his first SEC game.

Auburn, Ala.--The one-two punch from Georgia’s star players, Yante Maten and J.J. Frazier, rallied the Bulldogs from a 13-point deficit and provided a knockout of the Auburn Tigers in the SEC basketball opener for both teams on Thursday night.

Maten, an All-SEC junior forward, scored 31 points and pulled in eight rebounds for the Bulldogs and Frazier, an All-SEC senior point guard, scored 27 points and dished out five assists.

Auburn freshman Mustapha Heron said Auburn’s defensive game plan was to try to keep the ball away from UGA’s duo as much as possible. “Our approach was to try to keep it out of their hands once they give it up, but they are great players and great players find their way to the basketball,”?he said. “That is what they did tonight and both had great games.”

Photography; Dakota Sumpter

Mustapha Heron, who made 7-13 field goal attempts, drives to the basket on Thursday night.

Heron noted the Tigers didn’t play as well defensively or rebound at the level needed in the second half. Coach Bruce Pearl agreed.

“Defense and rebounding win basketball games,” Pearl declared. “We didn’t defend. That is why we lost.”

Pearl added, “It is about getting stops. It is real simple. When you give up 53 points in the second half you aren’t going to win.”

Georgia improved to 9-4. Auburn led by as many as 13 points in the first half and by a dozen in the second half.

“You have got to give Georgia credit,” Pearl said. “They took our best shot in the first half. We played really well--offensively especially. When they were within range they had to feel really good about it.

“Maten and Frazier were the two guys who could beat us and they were the two guys who beat us,”?the coach said. “I don’t think I developed a good enough game plan to get the ball out of their hands and keep them covered. Our kids certainly weren’t able to do it with what we presented them. Unfortunately, what happens is you just get exposed.”

Georgia’s hot-shooting second half trumped Auburn’s first half hot shooting as the Tigers dropped to 10-3 for the season as their four-game winning streak ended. 

The Bulldogs hit 59.4 percent of their field goals in the final 20 minutes as they outscored Auburn 53-33 in the second half. Auburn, which out-shot the Bulldogs 56.3 percent to 42.9 percent in the first half, managed to make just 36.7 percent of its second half field goals.

Heron led the Tigers with 19 points while Danjel Purifoy scored 13, Austin Wiley added 11 and Jared Harper finished with 10 points and six assists.

Georgia hurt the Tigers at the foul line, making 29-38 while Auburn was 17-27 on free throws.

The Bulldogs helped their cause by out-rebounding Auburn 38-33 while forcing 13 Auburn turnovers, one more than the home team forced.

Auburn was up 51-43 at halftime and never trailed in the period thanks to strong shooting that delighted the standing room only crowd of 9,121. The Tigers hit 18-32 of their field goals in the period and made 7-14 three-pointers and 8-11 free throws.

T.J. Lang, Heron and Wiley led the Tigers in first half scoring with eight points apiece.

Georgia shot 42.9 percent and was only 3-11 on threes at the half, but kept the game close at the foul line. The Bulldogs hit 16-21 free throws in the first half. Frazier, who made 7-8 free throws in the first half, led the Bulldogs in scoring at the break with 11 points.

Both teams substituted freely and each squad used 11 players in the first half.

The Tigers started the second half with Heron getting a hot hand, but once the momentum changed Auburn never could put together a run. Georgia took its first lead on a layup by Maten with 6:21. At the 3:49 mark the Bulldogs built the lead to 86-76 on a jumper by Maten.

“I think they went on a run and I don’t think we responded well enough to it,” Heron said.

Georgia coach Mark Fox said he liked his team’s composure. “They made a lot of three point shots early so we had to play from behind,”?he pointed out. “We came out of here with a very good win because we beat a very good team.”

Frazier said he liked the way his team played. "Our character and toughness has been challenged all week," the guard said. "We know what type of team we are. We just haven't shown it. Coach challenged us, and it started with me. We answered the call.

"You have to give Auburn credit," Frazier added. "They are a good team. We just had to play uphill for the most part. Once we got it down to where we could get in striking distance we made a run."

Photography: John David Mercer

Ronnie Johnson scored eight points in 13 minutes off the bench.

Auburn led 68-54 at the 16:14:46 mark on a layup by T.J. Dunans, who scored six points in a reserve role.  Georgia then scored 13 uncontested points to cut the lead to one with 10:44 on a jump shot by Frazier. Seconds later the game was tied and Auburn didn't handle the last 10 minutes of the game with a lot of composure.

“I think it was a great run by Georgia and us not being able to get any stops," Pearl said on his team becoming flustered. "It got us disrupted and we panicked a little bit, but when they’re scoring almost every possession it’s hard not to panic.”

Pearl added, This is the best that they’ve played. I think Mark (Fox) would admit that this is the best that they’ve played. Almost all of those kids have been there before, and we’re really a new young team, starting four freshmen. It’ll be a good lesson for us.”

Asked for his take on what happened, Heron said, “I think that, as a young team, I think we need something like this to move forward and get better. I think going down the stretch when we have leads we need to take better shots. I think my shot selection down the stretch was a little poor. It could definitely be better, and I think, just as a team, just taking care of the ball and all that stuff.”

Worth Noting, Part 1: Bryce Brown played briefly. It was his first action since being suspended for two games and then not playing for the next two games.

Worth Noting, Part 2: Auburn lost despite its bench outscoring Georgia’s bench 23-7.

Worth Noting, Part 3: The Bulldogs scored 42 points in the paint, eight more than the Tigers.

Stat of the Game: Auburn hit 7-14 three-pointers in the first half, but was just 2-12 the rest of the night.

Up Next.: The Tigers will play on Wednesday at Vanderbilt.

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