Despite a career-high 25 points from Brandon Robinson and 20 from Marquis Daniels, the Tigers (15-4, 4-2) couldn't overcome a hot Georgia (12-4, 4-1) club on the road, falling to the Bulldogs 85-79 in front of a sellout crowd of 10,523.
Ranked as the number one team in the country in the latest RPI standings, the Bulldogs showed their worth Saturday on the offensive end by making shot-after-shot in the clutch. Led by Ezra Williams' 19 points, five Georgia players finished in double-figures on a day when Coach Jim Harrick's squad shot 50 percent from the floor and made 17-of-18 free throws. Even with those numbers, Auburn hung around and had several chances late, but Georgia came up with just enough plays to pull out the victory.
"That was a great basketball game," Auburn Coach Cliff Ellis said following the loss. "Hats off to Georgia, they played extremely well. They are tough. We played a very good basketball game. We played hard. I'm not disappointed in our team at all. This was just one of those things where we came up on the short end. I thought our kids fought. It was one whale of a college basketball game."
Brandon Robinson scored 25 points on just 13 field goals.
The story of the game for Auburn and a good sign for the rest of the season was the play of Robinson. In just his sixth game of the season after being forced to sit out the pre-conference schedule because of eligibility concerns, the 6-8 forward was all over the place for the Tigers and keyed a second-half run that almost gave his club the upset.
"There hasn't been one game that I've been seven-of-eight at the free throw line," Robinson answered when asked if he felt like his old self after the performance. "That shows that we've been working hard. I would take it away if we won, but a lot of stuff just didn't go our way."
Trailing 41-38 at the break despite shooting 55.6 percent from the floor and making 6-of-9 three-pointers, Auburn was looking for a spark and an answer to Georgia's athletic and big perimeter players of Williams and Jarvis Hayes. Ellis turned to Robinson and he responded.
After scoring eight points in the first half in just 13 minutes, Robinson started the second half and immediately responded following a Georgia run to build a seven-point lead at 47-40.
Two Derrick Bird free throws cut the lead back to five before Robinson drew fouls on consecutive trips down the floor, making three-of-four to cut the lead back to four. Before his mini-run was finished, he had scored nine of Auburn's next 12 points, the last a lay-up that gave Auburn its first lead since the score was 3-2. Leading 54-53 with 12:40 remaining, Auburn had taken Georgia's best blow and now everyone knew this game was heading down to the wire.
With Williams and Hayes dropping in baskets, the Tigers decided to put the clamps on the duo the rest of the way and make Georgia's other players beat them if it was going to happen. Unfortunately for Auburn, the plan didn't play out as expected. Auburn held the pair to just 11 points the rest of the way, but Steve Thomas, Chris Daniels, Rashad Wright and Damien Wilkins picked up the slack for the Bulldogs. Hitting from everywhere in sight, the four combined to score 48 points in the game on 17-of-30 shooting. Auburn's Daniels said following the game that they forced Georgia into exactly what they wanted and the Bulldogs came up with the plays to win the game.
"A good team has guys step up and make plays for them," Daniels noted. "We knew Hayes and Williams were their guys, but we tried to send different people at them. Thomas and Daniels just made big plays at the end."
Auburn kept things within striking distance for the remainder of the game though and actually had several chances to tie the game or take the lead late only to come up short. The first came after Robinson ignited the Tigers with a steal and thunderous double-pump reverse dunk to cut the Georgia lead to 68-67 with 5:58 remaining. Georgia pushed the lead back to three before Auburn came down and Nathan Watson's defender fell, giving him a wide-open look at a three-pointer. His shot came up just short and Georgia followed with a basket to open the lead back to five.
The Tigers were never able to take the lead again, but brought it within one point on a Lewis Monroe lay-up with just over three minutes remaining. Georgia continued to score as back-to-back baskets by Daniels and Thomas pushed the lead back to five. A long Watson three with 1:46 left brought Auburn within two and that is as close as the Tigers would get the rest of the way. Georgia made 9-of-10 free throws down the stretch to seal the victory.
"I thought we played pretty hard," Watson said following the game. "They were hitting all their shots. It was just one of those days. They had the hot hand. I feel like we played real good defense and played a real good game. We just didn't come out on the winning side today."
In addition to Robinson and Daniels, Marco Killingsworth had another big game for the Tigers with 16 points and seven rebounds. Watson added seven points, three assists and two rebounds off the bench. Auburn outrebounded the Bulldogs 30-29 thanks to nine boards from Robinson and five from Daniels. The Tigers turned the ball over 15 times to just nine for the Bulldogs.
Nathan Watson scored seven points in a reserve role for the Tigers.
Despite a blistering first-half shooting performance by the Bulldogs, the Tigers hung around for the first 20 minutes thanks to some timely shooting from Monroe and Bird, but mostly it was Daniels that kept the Tigers in it. Hitting shots from all over the court, the senior finished the half with 14 points on 5-8 shooting from the field. That included a perfect 4-4 from three-point land, not bad for a player who had made just 13-47 so far this season from that range.
The key moment of the half came with Auburn down 39-31 after a Rashad Wright three for the Bulldogs. Down eight, Auburn came down and Monroe drained a three from the top of the key to cut the lead back to five. The two teams would trade baskets for the next few minutes until two late Killingsworth baskets, the second of a Daniels miss, cut the Georgia lead to just three at intermission.
A key to the Georgia victory in addition to its hot shooting was protecting the ball. The Bulldogs had just nine turnovers, six less than Auburn. It also helped that UGA got a lift from Steve Thomas who scored 16 points and added 11 rebounds.
"We had a little bit of an answer in Steve Thomas," Harrick noted. "He was magnificent today. Without him, we were nowhere to be found." The Georgia coach also said that he thought it was a very well played game by both teams and he noted that his Bulldogs had trouble trying to slow down Auburn sophomore forwards Robinson and Killingsworth.
The Tigers have a week off before returning to action when they face the Tennessee Volunteers Saturday in a 3 p.m. start at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum. The game is the first of three-straight for the Tigers at home with Ole Miss and LSU in town before Auburn hits the road again for a game at Alabama.