For awhile, Georgia seemed on its way to a win over No. 18 Vanderbilt that might have stamped its NCAA tournament resume'. Instead they still have plenty of work to do after a mystifying finish in a 64-56 loss.
The Bulldogs scored just three points in the final nine and a half minutes, all on free throws. And Vanderbilt, thanks to the league's leading scorer, finished the game on a 24-3 run.
"Definitely another tough loss," Georgia guard Gerald Robinson said.
By "another," he may have meant a number of things.
It was another blown second-half lead: In its previous game, a four-point win at South Carolina, the Bulldogs had a 23-point second-half lead. Georgia also had a lead in the final seconds of overtime against Florida, only to lose that game.
And it was yet another home loss for Georgia, which fell a week ago to Xavier in a similar situation: Needing a win to pad its tournament resume'.
Georgia (17-8 overall, 6-5 in the SEC) may now need to win one of its next two games, at Tennessee and at Florida, or its regular-season finale at Alabama. It also has home games against woeful LSU and South Carolina.
But a win over Vanderbilt – which started the day ranked 16th in the all-important RPI – would have made Georgia a likely at-large team.
And the Bulldogs did have a 14-point lead with 14 minutes left, after an 11-0 run that had the Stegeman Coliseum crowd on its feet.
Then the SEC's leading scorer took over.
Vanderbilt guard John Jenkins had been held scoreless for the game's first 26 minutes, an amazing accomplishment considering he had scored at least 18 in every SEC game this year. So when he nailed a 3 at the 13:16 mark, Georgia head coach Mark Fox knew there was reason to be worried.
"Once the first one went down," Fox said, then made a grimace. "You're afraid as a coach that that's gonna get him going."
That was exactly what happened. When Jenkins hit his fifth 3 of the game, with just under four minutes left, the game was tied at 55.
Vanderbilt was 9-for-12 on 3-pointers in the second half. Even worse for Georgia was the rebounding: Vandy had a 24-9 advantage in the second half.
Georgia's offense also went away down the stretch. Travis Leslie's 3-pointer with 9:37 left, which made it 53-40, proved to the Bulldogs' final field goal.
Still, they had a chance to tie or go ahead in the final minute, after taking possession down two with 42 seconds left. Fox elected not to call timeout, but Leslie's runner with 21 seconds missed, and the loose ball went out of bounds off the Bulldogs.
"It was a good look," Leslie said. "We just didn't make it."
"I thought we were gonna get a basket or get to the line. We didn't get either," Fox said. "But it was a play that we'd worked on. Travis did exactly (what was called), drove the ball right to the bucket, where we wanted to go."
In the final moments, after Vanderbilt iced the game at the free throw line, Fox drew a technical when he went well out onto the court and yelled at officials.
"I just voiced some frustration," Fox said.
Robinson was asked why the Bulldogs have had such trouble closing out teams.
"I just don't know the answer to that," he said.