Dawgs Fall Apart Late... Again

ATHENS – It took 20 minutes longer than Dennis Felton hoped, but Georgia finally found the new look it had been searching for against Mississippi State. Felton employed a lineup that featured significant playing time for reserves Jeremy Price and Ricky McPhee and had freshman Dustin Ware run the point for 37 minutes, and the changes resulted in Georgia's best offensive output in weeks.

McPhee's team-high 15 points helped lead Georgia back from a 19-point first-half deficit, but the hot shooting went cold in the game's final minutes as Mississippi State escaped with a 67-61 win. Still, the big second half gave Georgia a glimmer of hope that had been missing throughout much of its current six-game losing streak.

"This new philosophy of offense is going to help us tremendously," freshman forward Trey Thompkins said. "Guys are going to be more confident in their abilities, guys like Jeremy get to shoot the ball, Dustin gets to make plays, Corey (Butler) and Ricky get to make 3s. We're just going to open it up now and play basketball."

Thompkins said the team spent the last week of practice working on a more up-tempo style of offense and identify a group of players that could keep the same pace on the defensive end of the court.

The result was a fresh look for the Georgia lineup. Albert Jackson and Zac Swansey each played just 10 minutes and barely saw the court in the second half, while Ware and McPhee each reach season highs in playing time.

"Coach is looking for those guys that are willing to go out there and put it on the line every day, and once we find that group, that's who we're going to go with," senior Corey Butler said.

In the end, however, the changes probably came a bit too late.

Mississippi State jumped out to a 15-2 lead early and led by as much as 22 at one point. Georgia turned the ball over 16 times in the first half, while Mississippi State guard Ravern Johnson helped punish Georgia for its mistakes with 21 points, including hitting his first five 3s of the game.

"I was pleased to be where we were at halftime after turning the thing over 16 times in the first half and letting Johnson get 21," Felton said. "I think we were there because we kept fighting."

The second half was a different story.

Behind the hot shooting of McPhee from deep, Georgia battled back to cut Mississippi State's lead to two with 7:21 to play.

McPhee hit four second-half 3-pointers to energize the Georgia offense, while Butler held Johnson scoreless in the second half.

"I was able to get some easy looks and was able to knock them down," McPhee said. "People on the court were looking for me, and after I made that first one, it gave me a little confidence and I guess the basket looked a little bit bigger for me in the second half."

Mississippi State got 3s from Phil Turner and Barry Stewart to boost its lead back to eight, however, and Georgia was never able to recover. McPhee, Thompkins and Ware combined to miss six 3-pointers in the game's final minute.

"They hit shots to take the lead back up, and you could call it maybe a backbreaker. We fought so hard and pressured shots, but they made them," Thompkins said.

Unlike its loss to Kentucky last Sunday – a game in which Felton called his team's performance "soft" – Georgia's second-half comeback provided a minor silver lining and might have given fans a glimpse of what's in store down the road.

Felton said the personnel used Saturday could be the early makings of a long-term change, and Thompkins said the team is excited about playing a more up-tempo style that he believes is a better fit for the talent on the floor.

"Nowadays you don't really see too many teams slowing the ball down and running a million sets," Thompkins said. "It's a thing where guys have the ability so we have to use it."

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