Hardest part of Felton's rebuilding now over

ATHENS — The hardest part of Georgia's rebuilding is over.

The Bulldogs closed the book on coach Dennis Felton's second season with a 76-65 loss to Mississippi State on Thursday in the first round of the SEC Tournament in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

The season that everyone expected to be hard was that and then some. If this wasn't the worst of it, then the program may never recover.

The Bulldogs — who used as many walk-ons, seven, as scholarship players this season — finished with eight wins and 20 losses. It's the first time since 1977 Georgia has failed to win at least 10 games. The Bulldogs finished 2-15 in the SEC, including Thursday's loss, their worst conference record since 1974.

"The main thing that I talked about (after the game) is that the future is now," Felton said. "I reminded them of what we're doing as a program and that we plan to be great. We will immediately get right back to work because we don't have time to waste."

The Bulldogs will take off today and then next week for spring break and return to individual workouts and conditioning on March 21.

"I wouldn't look at it as we're happy to be done at all," center Dave Bliss said. "We're happy to get started."

The end looked familiar for Georgia. As they have in most games, the Bulldogs fought off reality for more than a half and were within two points with 15 minutes left in the game. However, after Levi Stukes hit two free throws to cut Mississippi State's lead to 43-41, Mississippi State scored seven straight points and nine of the next 10 to take a 52-42 lead.

"We did a good job of competing all year, right down to the very end," Felton said.

Mississippi State led by as many as 18 in the second half and managed the win without the normal contribution from star forward Lawrence Roberts, who finished with 10 points and nine rebounds. Roberts had just two points and two rebounds in the second half.

Bliss led Georgia with 14 points and eight rebounds. He was the only red and black Bulldog with more than five rebounds. Overall, Georgia was outrebounded 43-34.

"The biggest part of both of their runs was their getting second shots," Felton said.

The Bulldogs followed their usual pattern in the first half as well, fighting tooth and nail and leading for much of the period, thanks in large part to freshman guard Channing Toney.

Toney had a hot flash midway through the first half, scoring nine points in one minute, 47 seconds. After he hit a 3-pointer with 12:53 left in the half, he was 4 of 4 from the floor and had 11 points. But he didn't score again in the game.

Georgia took its last lead on a basket by Sundiata Gaines with 7:42 remaining. Mississippi State tied the score at 28-28 with a basket by Winsome Frazier two minutes later. The maroon and white Bulldogs outscored Georgia 11-7 from there and led 39-35 at the break.

Georgia couldn't make up the difference, particularly by shooting 26.7 percent from the floor in the second half.

"Our hole at Georgia was really, really deep," Felton said. "It's going to take a gargantuan effort by everybody to get out of it."

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