Dawgs Roll in NIT with Stukes' hot hand

ATHENS – Out here on the fringe of postseason basketball, where the spotlight's wattage is low, seems a fitting home for the statistically absurd.

Georgia and Fresno State provided that Wednesday night, combining to take 62 3-pointers and make 31 of them in the first round of the NIT. Georgia's ability to operate from inside the arc as well led to its 88-78 win and at least one more game in this season.

"That's a lot of 3s," Georgia point guard Sundiata Gaines said laughing. "It's fun going up and down, guys coming down and shooting shots, just having fun. We're just trying to enjoy the NIT."

Fresno State took 40 threes and made 18, both records for a Georgia opponent. Fresno State's 18 makes was its school record.

Senior Levi Stukes helped the Bulldogs match that pace by coming within one 3-pointer of setting his own school record. He matched his career high with eight 3-pointers, one shy of G.G. Smith's record of nine set in 1998 against Fresno State.

"Certainly, Stukes was special," Fresno State head coach Steve Cleveland said. "Early on, he got those shots because we were doubling the post, but then their big men started contributing, and we just don't have the manpower."

Stukes, 8-of-9 from behind the arc and 11-of-14 overall, finished with a season-high 30 points. Georgia was 13-of-22 on 3-pointers. Only six times in the program's history has it made more.

"I came into the game fully expecting it to be slanted to the arc," head coach Dennis Felton said. "They pack it in really tight defensively. We told our guys that they were going to have a lot of good looks from the perimeter."

The Bulldogs (19-13), who are the fourth seed in the West Region, will now play the winner of Wednesday's late game between top- seeded Air Force and eighth-seeded Austin Peay on Monday. (The Air Force game didn't tip off until 11 p.m. Eastern time. The next round will be played on the home court of the higher seed.)

Fresno State, the West's fifth seed, ended its season 22-10.

A Stegeman Coliseum of 2,013 was treated to quite a show. Georgia's attendance was hurt by the fact that the school is on spring break, but Felton was pleased with his fan's attentiveness.

"I told our players that not only is the university on spring break but just about all the surrounding counties are as well," he said. "There are not a lot of people left in the community right now. I told them to expect a small crowd and be ready to create their own energy."

Fresno State's obsession with the outside shot was no surprise. They entered the game having attempted 841 this year. Among the teams in the six traditional power conferences, only West Virginia (894) took more. In fact, only six of the 73 teams in those conferences came within 100 attempts for Fresno State, which is 13th in the nation in 3-pointers made per game (9.2).

What did in the WAC Bulldogs was their inability to score from anywhere else. They hit just nine 2-point baskets compared to Georgia's 20, and Cleveland credited Felton's decision to play mostly zone for that.

"We took what they gave us," he said. "I think the decision to zone us was a good one."

Through the game's first 31 minutes, Fresno State made four 2-point field goals, and all of them came on alley oops, three dunks and a lay-in. Five of the Western Athletic Conference Bulldogs' 2- pointers came from 6-foot-8 leaper Dominic McGuire, whose athletic ability brought seven NBA scouts to Stegeman on Wednesday night. Eddie Miller and Hector Hernandez each had 21 points, all on 3-pointers, to lead Fresno State.

Georgia, meanwhile, operated efficiently inside. Forward Takais Brown had 21 points on 9-of-14 shooting. Center Dave Bliss scored 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting.

"We were very much on point with our game plan," Felton said.

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