"We came in a little too giggly and not very focused," said leading scorer Trey Thompkins, who finished with 19 points – 15 of which came in the second half. "But we adjusted as a team and plan to fix it."
There was little to laugh about in the first half.
Jay-R Strowbridge connected on three 3-pointers in the half and Georgia's offense offered little production outside of guard Ricky McPhee's jumper, struggling to keep pace with the undersized Gamecocks.
McPhee had 11 of Georgia's 21 first-half points and the Bulldogs went to the half trailing by eight in a game that offered little in the way of surprises for head coach Mark Fox.
"I was disappointed with our team's approach when they came to the gym," Fox said. "It's something we've talked a lot about, and I was very disappointed in our approach. I anticipated we might have a poor start and my inclination was right."
Fox aired his frustrations in the locker room, and Georgia opened the second half with a sharper focus and a renewed offensive attack.
The Bulldogs connected on 15-of-31 second-half shots and introduced a few new looks to their offensive game plan, allowing Thompkins and Travis Leslie find a few more open looks.
"We played much harder in the second half," Fox said. "We have a set that we had not been able to put in, and we drew it up during a timeout, and our kids took advantage and picked it up pretty quickly. That gave us enough momentum to get the lead."
Georgia battled back from a six-point deficit with 12:59 to play with a 10-4 run, including six points from Leslie, to take a 51-45 lead with 7:11 to play.
The renewed focus, however, evaporated nearly as quickly as it was created, and Jacksonville State stormed back as Georgia's defense lapsed down the stretch.
Strowbridge finished with 16 for the Gamecocks, including a 3-point play with 3:41 to go in which he connected on a lay-up and was fouled by McPhee that gave Jacksonville the lead once more.
Georgia trailed by two with less than three minutes to go, but Dustin Ware drained a 3 and McPhee followed with his first make of the second half – a 3-pointer from the top of the key – to give the Bulldogs a four-point lead they wouldn't relinquish.
The win wasn't pretty, Thompkins said, but it was a step in the right direction. The Bulldogs protected the ball down the stretch and, aside from two misses by McPhee with seven seconds left, they made their free throws late. Those were minor steps forward, but it was progress nevertheless. And for a team that has struggled to get past even mediocre competition in the early going, progress is a much-needed asset as the schedule gets tougher in the coming weeks.
"There are going to be setbacks because we have a new team, a new staff, and we're still learning things about each other," Thompkins said. "But it's a growing process, and I'm starting to feel that we're going to become the team we want to become."