What’s next: A trip to the Big Apple. The Bulldogs play No. 13 Gonzaga (4-0) in Madison Square Garden on Tuesday (9:30 p.m. | ESPN2).
Player of the game: Thornton. Georgia’s elder statesman tied his career high with 17 points and pulled down a season-best 12 rebounds. Thornton’s averages for the year: 13 points, 6.3 rebounds, 53 percent shooting.
_______ Finally healthy and now fully confident, Georgia fifth-year senior Marcus Thornton says basketball is fun to play again.
The forward from Atlanta posted his fourth career double-double, tying his career high with 17 points and pulling down a season-best 12 rebounds, in Georgia’s 74-61 win over Florida Atlantic on Sunday.
After three knee surgeries, ankle issues and even a bout with a staph infection, Thornton says this is the most comfortable he’s felt on the court during his career.
“This year I didn’t have to take that time to get re-adjusted,” the 6-foot-8, 235-pound Thornton said. “… It’s much more enjoyable when you can do some of these things.”
Thornton returned to the starting line-up last season after taking a medical redshirt the year before. While he led the team in rebounding, Thornton said it took time to get up to speed on the offensive end of the floor. He’s now paced Georgia in scoring in each of the last two games.
“This year he has confidence in his body, confidence in his game, so now he can be aggressive,” coach Mark Fox said. “He’s really playing well and playing like a senior. I’m really happy for him.”
Thornton had help Sunday from fellow frontcourt senior Nemi Djurisic, who just missed the first triple-double in school history.
He finished with eight points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.
“He probably could have had a triple-double,” Fox said. “If he really wanted to focus on something like that, he probably could have had it. He’s a very complete player.”
The native of Montenegro was especially efficient, hitting four of his seven shots and committing just one turnover.
“I was comfortable, very confident,” he said. “…I was trying to help the others and just trying to be a helpful teammate.”
Junior guard Charles Mann, the preseason All-SEC pick, hit only two of his 10 shots and scored eight points. Mann is shooting just 40 percent on the year, but Fox says the team isn’t depending on the 6-foot-4 Alpharetta native as much as it did when he led the way with 13.9 points per game a season ago.
“I think tonight he got a little bit out of sorts,” Fox said. “The great thing about our team is he doesn’t have to play great for us to win. We welcome the additional scoring.”
Despite missing most of preseason practice with mononucleosis, Kenny Gaines has scored in double figures in all four games this season. The junior guard posted 15 points on 7-of-13 shooting in 31 minutes of action.
Fox said he doesn’t think Gaines is even 90 percent healthy and conditioned, the number Gaines himself estimated after the Bulldogs beat Troy last Friday.
“I wouldn’t say he’s 90, I think he’s getting closer to that,” Fox said.
The lead changed hands five times in the first half before the Bulldogs took control to take an eight-point lead into halftime. The margin grew to as much as 18 near the end in the second period, with Georgia getting 13 points off 14 offensive rebounds. The Bulldogs bench chipped in 20 points, led by sophomore guard J.J. Frazier’s nine and freshman forward Yante Maten’s six.
While Fox was pleased with the outcome, he said there was plenty of areas his team must improve.
“It’s good to have some errors and learn from them,” he said. “… Lot of things we can learn from to get better. We had several offensive fouls — we’ve got to figure out why we’re getting those.”
The Bulldogs travel to New York City to play Gonzaga Tuesday in the Preseason NIT in Madison Square Garden.
“This will be as good of a team as we’ll play all year,” Fox said. “I know Kentucky is great and we’ll play some other good teams in our league, but we’ll have to play really good basketball to beat them. It’s time for a test like that.”