Knocking The Rust Off

ATHENS - Despite turning the ball over 24 times, the Georgia men's basketball team managed to escape with an 81-69 win over UNC-Pembroke in Monday night's exhibition.

The Bulldogs' turnover epidemic resulted in 31 points for UNC-Pembroke, which is something head coach Mark Fox said is to be expected in a preseason exhibition. With that said, it's still a major point of emphasis for the Dawgs before the regular season tips on Friday.

"I think we showed some typical first game jitters," Fox said. "I thought offensively we never really were settled and so the turnovers were an issue for us."

The game started off a bit sloppy, which led to a few Georgia passes soaring out of reach or right into the hands of UNC-Pembroke defenders. Regardless of what team you're matched up against, that's always a recipe for turnovers.

"We made some bad reads and some poor passes. I'm concerned with our passing," Fox said. "When you have poor passing you're going to have the result of some turnovers. It's an issue that's very correctable so I wasn't happy with it, but not overly concerned."

Outside of some inconsistent passing, a fresh pair of talented sophomores shined early for Georgia. Kenny Gaines connected on his first four shots and eventually finished the game with 15 points, second on the team to only fellow sophomore Charles Mann who had 18.

Gaines went six of eight shooting in the game, hitting on two of his three 3-point attempts. Mann was five of six with no 3's attempted.

While Gaines had the hot hand to start the game, Mann's consistent play throughout the night eventually made him Georgia's leading scorer. Leading scorer or not, Mann says he and Gaines just have to be better leaders in general

"We've got to be leaders; vocal leaders," Mann said. "We've got to carry the team in whatever way we've got to do for that game. We've just got to go out there and play."

Gaines too acknowledged the importance of his and Mann's leadership. He says it's worth more thought than the turnovers against UNC-Pembroke.

"I feel like it was because we were just a little bit rusty," Gaines said. "We're used to playing against each other in practice and stuff. Overall it was a team turnover effort. It was a lot coming from the returning players and freshmen too so we've just got to do better as a whole."

Thanks in part to those turnovers, the lead bounced back and forth often throughout the game. Georgia narrowly escaped going into the half trailing, but managed to head to the locker room with a 38-37 lead.

In the end, Georgia attempted enough shots from the free throw line to give it a better opportunity to score, which was a direct result of UNC-Pembroke's 28 team fouls. As a team, Georgia hit 25 of its 36 free throws to finish at 69.4% in the game.

While the free throws helped Georgia, its free throw percentage wasn't as high as its coach would have hoped for.

"I wasn't particularly pleased with the percentage we shot from the foul line," Fox said. "I think it needs to be up in the 70's, but we know that's going to be an issue this year and we've really worked hard to adjust to how the game's going to be called."

Fox says that a significantly higher number of fouls being called is something every team will have to learn to adjust to this season.

"You're going to see this year that there is going to me more fouls called in every game," Fox said. "There's a national emphasis on calling fouls that have been probably let go in the previous decade. You're going to see more fouls whether a team is physical or not. There's some automatic whistles this year."

Though aware of the rule change, Georgia had a tough time adjusting to the increased foul calls as well.

"I think we had a tough time adjusting to how the game is going to be officiated this year because we know it's an issue, and I thought we did a nice job not fouling, but we didn't pressure the basketball or play as actively as we wanted to defensively," Fox said.

Fox showed confidence in his team throughout the preseason, and continued to after Monday's exhibition. Before the season, Fox even went to the lengths of voting Georgia in the nation's top 25 to show his confidence. In short, he likes what he sees every day from his team.

"I believe in our team and until we lose I'll vote for them every week," Fox said. "I see my team every day. I'm not voting because of somebody's tradition. We're trying to build one, but I believe in my team so I voted for my team because I think they have a chance to be a good basketball team. That's why I did it, and I've done it before."

The Bulldogs are set to tip off their season at 7:30 p.m. on Friday in a matchup against Wofford in Stegeman Coliseum.

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