ATHENS, Ga. — The anticipated showdown between Jarvis Hayes and Marquis Daniels may not have lived up to expectations, but Georgia coach Jim Harrick had no interest in a one-on-one exhibition between two of the SEC's two three scorers.
With Georgia's Hayes slowed by a hip injury, the Bulldogs' 85-79 win over Auburn Saturday was the result of balanced scoring and near-perfect free-throw shooting in the clutch.
One game after Ezra Williams and Hayes scored 29 and 23 points, respectively, in the 19th-ranked Bulldogs' win over Tennessee Wednesday night, Harrick was more pleased to see a more balanced attack against No. 24 Auburn Saturday before a Stegeman Coliseum sellout crowd of 10,523.
"I like that,'' said Harrick of the balanced scoring. "That's a much better team than the other day when we had 29 and 23. We had five guys in double figures. That's my kind of team''
This was the first time Georgia and Auburn had met when both teams were ranked. Each played like it belonged in the Top 25.
"What a great ballgame,'' said Auburn coach Cliff Ellis. "We knew coming in that you have to stop Ezra Williams and Jarvis Hayes, but their other players stepped up, too.''
Similarly, 6-foot-8 sophomore Brandon Robinson stepped up with a career-high 25 points for Auburn.
Robinson, who had to sit out the first 13 games of the season, also led Auburn with nine rebounds — including four offensive boards — as the Tigers claimed a 13-8 advantage in second-chance points.
Auburn (15-4 overall, 4-2 SEC) leads the Western Division despite back-to-back road losses to Kentucky and Georgia.
"I know why they lead the West now,'' Harrick said of the Tigers. "There isn't a better group of athletes in the country than what Auburn has.''
The Bulldogs (12-4 overall, 4-1 SEC) have won 11 of their last 12 games.
Missed free-throw opportunities helped cost Georgia a chance to beat Tennessee in regulation, but against Auburn the Bulldogs clinched the win by making 9 of 10 free throws in the final 1:23.
Georgia led only 76-74 when Steve Thomas began the procession to the charity strip. Thomas had made only 1 of 4 free-throw attempts in Georgia's first four SEC games, but twice in one-and-one situations he was good on both attempts.
Chris Daniels, who had made only 6 of 13 free throws in SEC games before Saturday, also was perfect on four tries in the final 40 seconds.
Overall, Georgia made 17 of 18 free throws.
Though he played 35 minutes despite his strained hip flexor, Hayes made only 3 of 12 shots from the field and scored only 12 points — his third-lowest total of the season.
"We've got a complete team,'' Hayes said. "It's not always me or Ezra. We've got other guys who are capable of stepping up.''
Daniels and Hayes rank second and third, respectively, among the SEC's scoring leaders. Daniels scored 20 points for Auburn but was held to six points in the second half.
Williams, No. 4 on the SEC scoring list, led Georgia with 19 points, but the crucial contributions came from three players who do not regularly score in double figures: Steve Thomas (16 points, 11 rebounds and two blocked shots), Chris Daniels (12 points, three steals) and Damien Wilkins (12 points, three assists).
Point guard Rashad Wright added eight points with five assists and one turnover. He has 30 assists with only two turnovers in five conference games. The balance from Georgia was needed to offset Robinson's breakout game, punctuated by two powerful jams — one which tied the game at 60-60 and a reverse slam which cut Georgia's lead to 68-67.
Asked if he felt he has regained his playing form, Robinson said "You all could tell that ... but a lot of stuff just didn't go our way tonight.''
Though Auburn's 30-29 rebounding edge was slight, only Thomas was consistently effective in the battles against Robinson — who did not start but played 31 minutes — and Marco Killingsworth (16 points, seven rebounds). Auburn twice led by one point in the second half, but Georgia also could not pull away.
Daniels had 14 points in the first 20 minutes but his slowing pace slowed when guarded by Georgia's top defensive player, Chris Daniels, in the second half.
Auburn will be home for three straight games, beginning with a 4 p.m. ET game next Saturday against Tennessee. Georgia will play at Vanderbilt Wednesday night and will play host to Mississippi State next Saturday.