ATHENS, Ga. — When Steve Thomas missed an open dunk with 7:35 left to play in Sunday's game against Georgia Tech, he was left with one thought: "Try not to miss any more,'' he said.
The sophomore more than atoned for his embarrassing gaffe, scoring the Bulldogs' next nine points and finishing with a career-high 24 points as Georgia beat the Yellow Jackets, 95-82.
Georgia (7-1) has beaten Georgia Tech three straight years for the first time since 1982-84. Coach Jim Harrick, talking as if already trying to score points with the NCAA tournament selection committee, also noted that Georgia now boasts wins over teams from the Big East (Georgetown), Big 12 (Colorado), Big Ten (Minnesota) and Atlantic Coast Conference.
Thomas, a 6-foot-8 strong forward best known for his rebounding, was averaging only 8.9 points per game and had never scored more than 12 points in a game.
Many of Thomas' points came with baskets and free throws when Georgia Tech was forced to foul after failing to stop Georgia with its full-court press.
Georgia Tech (3-5) shot better from beyond the 3-point line (14 of 29, 48.3 percent) than from closer range (15 of 39, 38.5 percent). The Yellow Jackets forced 17 turnovers, but when Georgia successfully pushed the ball past halfcourt, point guard Rashad Wright (a career-high 11 assists and only one turnover) controlled the game.
"We have a little dog bone we give after each game, and it has to go to Rashad,'' said Harrick. "He had 11 assists and I don't even remember the one turnover. He controlled the tempo of the game.''
By comparison, Tech point guard Tony Akins committed six turnovers to go with seven assists.
Wright has 36 assists and only three turnovers in the last six games.
Asked if he thought the key was beating the Tech press, Wright said: "No doubt about it. (Harrick) told us about that before the game. We had to get the ball down and control our shots.''
Georgia shot 53.1 percent from the field in the second half, a sign it enjoyed good success against the press.
"Defensively, they were better than we were,'' said Tech coach Paul Hewitt.
"(Georgia) executed very, very well today. More than anything, their half-court offense was better than our half-court defense.''
Marvin Lewis (17 points) and Akins (15 points) each sank five 3-pointers for Tech. Robert Brooks added 13 points and a game-high 10 rebounds.
Ezra Williams (22 points) and Jarvis Hayes (21 points) gave Georgia three 20-point scorers.
After his missed dunk, Thomas was especially efficient with his shots.
Thomas was 8 of 10 from the field and 8 of 10 from the free-throw line. He also led Georgia with nine rebounds.
Said an impressed Hewitt of Thomas: "He's a guy who's a very good shooter.''
Before Sunday, however, Thomas' career field-goal percentage was a low 39.0, including 21 of 50 (42.0) this season.
Said Thomas of the missed dunk, which followed a steal by Williams: "It was very embarrassing. You're all by yourself and you miss it.''
Georgia held a seemingly comfortable 85-72 lead with 2:36 left to play before Tech drilled three 3-pointers in a flurry of only 50 seconds to close to within four points at 85-81 with 1:30 left to play.
Georgia clinched the win at the free-throw line, making four of six attempts before a steal and jam by Williams brought Georgia fans in the Stegeman Coliseum crowd of 9,673.
An alley-oop jam by Hayes with six seconds left capped the win.
Though Jonas Hayes was held out after suffering an open dislocation of his left index finger in Friday night's 77-55 win over Minnesota, Harrick still enjoyed strong bench play from Ryan Pevey and Mike Patrick.
Pevey, a 6-foot-5 walk-on and the only senior on Georgia's roster, pulled down two rebounds and delivered two assists in the first half.
Patrick added three points, five rebounds and two steals.