AUBURN, Ala. — Tempers cost Georgia a player and a coach in the final two minutes Saturday.
The ensuing 75-72 loss to Auburn may have cost Georgia more than just a game. The Bulldogs may remember this controversial loss at Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum as the game that cost them a conference title.
The loss to Auburn, the last-place team in the West, knocked the Bulldogs out of first place in the Southeastern Conference's Eastern Division.
The 17th-ranked Bulldogs (18-6 overall, 7-4 in the SEC) lost its opportunity to enter next week's crucial home games against Florida and Kentucky with a lead in the East. With its win over Vanderbilt Saturday, Florida moved to 7-3 in the SEC, one-half game ahead of the Bulldogs.
Georgia plays host to Florida Tuesday night at 9. Georgia will be without starting forward Steve Thomas against Florida thanks to Thomas' role in a fight with Auburn's Kyle Davis late in Saturday's game.
The events of the last two minutes, which also saw Georgia coach Jim Harrick tossed from the game, left the Bulldogs feeling like they were beaten by the officials.
Auburn shot 18 free throws, making 13, in the final 46.5 seconds. Overall in the second half, Auburn took 34 free throws, compared to four for Georgia. Said Georgia guard Ezra Williams in his criticism of the three officials: "We didn't have a chance. It was eight-on-five. ... I just feel like we got the game taken away from us.''
Added Williams in a concession: "But Auburn made some good shots.''
An already tense and physical game exploded after a 3-pointer by Auburn's Adam Harrington left the score 60-60.
Video replays showed that Davis and Thomas collided as the two were contending for position under the basket. Davis threw an elbow and a punch after contact under the basket with Thomas, and the latter swing apparently hit Thomas on the back of his head. Thomas responded with an elbow and a swing and he then chased Davis toward the
"(Davis) hit me with his fist,'' said Thomas, who said he was only defending himself.
Davis was not made available for comment.
Officials Gary Maxwell and Olandis Poole each fell in the melee on the bench. Georgia's Jarvis Hayes shoved Harrington before the two sides were separated.
Thomas and Davis were ejected. SEC commissioner Roy Kramer attended the game and, after conferring with the officials, ruled two hours after the game that Thomas and Davis will be suspended for one game for flagrant fouls for fighting.
That ruling knocks Thomas out for Georgia's crucial battle for first place with Florida Tuesday night in Athens. It is possible that a review of the tape could lead to action against Hayes.
With Auburn leading 62-60, tempers flared again after Georgia's Chris Daniels was called for an offensive foul. Harrick protested and, with 46.5 seconds left, was called for a technical foul by Poole, and official Tim Higgins then followed with a quick second technical that meant Harrick was ejected from the game.
From the foul on Daniels and two technicals on Harrick, Auburn's Derrick Bird and Brandon Robinson combined to make five of six free-throw attempts, giving the Tigers a 67-60 lead.
"In a game with 46 seconds to go and a game of that magnitude, you don't just throw a guy out,'' Harrick said. "You manage the game, manage the game.''
Added Harrick: "It seems like, in the second half, every trip down the court we had a foul called on us. ... Boy, there were some real strange calls.''
The Bulldogs were called for 19 fouls in the second half, compared to six for Auburn. In the first half, Auburn — playing a more aggressive man-to-man defense — was called for 10 fouls, compared to five on Georgia.
There were predictable conflicts in the interpretation of the fight. Said Harrick: "I saw Davis swing at (Thomas) and hit him right in the mouth.''
Said Auburn coach Cliff Ellis: "When the first exchange took place, it wasn't a fight. None of the fighting began until the red (Georgia) jerseys got mixed in our bench.''
Added Harrick, who may face a reprimand or other discipline for his ejection: "I want to see the tape. ... The consequence for Auburn is not very steep, but for us it's huge.''
Auburn (10-11 overall, 2-8 in the SEC) has made the most of its two conference wins, beating two division leaders, including a Jan. 12 win over Alabama.
Saturday's win ended Auburn's six-game losing streak. "I hope this issue will subdue and not take anything away from our win against a great team,'' Ellis said.
Even after trailing 67-60, Georgia had a chance late, pulling to within two points at 71-69 on a 3-pointer by Williams. Trailing by three points with 3.5 seconds left, Georgia did not have a chance for a last shot when Auburn's Marquis Daniels stole a pass from Mike Dean. It was Daniels' fifth steal of the game.
Daniels did not start as Ellis opened with four freshmen, but he scored 14 points to lead five Auburn players in double figures.
Jarvis Hayes led Georgia with 23 points, followed by Williams' 17. Chris Daniels fouled out with only two points but six assists and eight rebounds.