Dawgs Thump Jackets

ATHENS – Before the game tipped off, Mark Fox offered a warning to his players. If they won, he said, he didn't want them to celebrate as if they'd sealed a championship.

Click here for photos from Georgia's win over Tech...

He wanted them to expect to win, not to be surprised by it.

In the end, Fox relented and allowed the Bulldogs to celebrate anyway following a 73-66 victory over No. 17 Georgia Tech – their first win over a ranked opponent in nearly three years and a victory Fox called a crucial building block for his program.

"They celebrated back there just like they should, but this is a big win for our program," Fox said. "We beat a good basketball team, and that's a real quality win for our program."

For a program building from the ground up, the steppingstone Tuesday certainly felt like more of a giant leap. The last time the Bulldogs toppled a top-25 team, it was a buzzer-beater against LSU in 2007. This one came more emphatically and at a more crucial point in the Bulldogs' season.

As Georgia prepares to open conference play Saturday against No. 3 Kentucky, the win over Tech was a resounding confirmation that the program is headed in the right direction and that, when things come together for the Bulldogs, they're a team that can set their sights much higher than most of the preseason prognosticators might have expected.

"I knew we had the fight," said Travis Leslie, who finished with 12 points, one of four Georgia players in double digits. "We work on it every day in practice. When we go out and play hard, it all falls together."

For Tech, however, the loss was more than a disappointment. The Yellow Jackets hadn't won in Athens since 1972, and this year was clearly their best shot in recent memory at ending the streak.

Instead, phenom Derrick Favors found himself in early foul trouble and was limited to just two first-half points. He played just 21 minutes overall and finished with eight points and five turnovers. While Gani Lawal picked up the slack with a game-high 21 points, Tech turned the ball over 20 times in all and never established a consistent rhythm offensively.

"We just had one of those nights," Tech coach Paul Hewitt said. "Derrick played well, but when he picks up two fouls early, it's hard for him to get in any kind of rhythm."

Instead, it was Georgia's NBA prospect, Trey Thompkins, who stole the show, chipping in with a team-high 20 points – 14 in the second half – and six rebounds.

The performance, both personally and for the team, was momentous.

"It means more to us for our pride because now we know both sides of the game," Thompkins said. "We know if we come out and play, we can play with anybody."

Georgia came out strong, building a seven-point lead with six minutes remaining in the first half, but Tech was hardly ready to roll over.

The Yellow Jackets battled back to regain the lead at 26-25 with 2:46 to go in the half, but Georgia responded by ending on a 6-0 run.

It was like that throughout the game – there were seven ties and nine lead changes, most in the second half -- but each Tech run was quickly stymied by a stout Georgia defense that held the Yellow Jackets to 38 percent shooting and just 3-of-12 from 3-point range and just enough offense to keep Tech on its heals.

That was another big step forward, Fox said. When Missouri jumped out to an early lead against Georgia last Saturday, the Bulldogs showed little fight. That was unacceptable, Fox said, and the message was driven home in advance of the win over Tech.

"We started talking about responding to adversity as soon as that game ended," Fox said. "We didn't play a perfect game, and we still made some great errors, but we did respond to their runs."

While Tech struggled from 3, Georgia converted on 7-of-14 from long range, led by senior Ricky McPhee's four 3-pointers, his last coming with 1:25 to play to extend the Bulldogs' lead to seven. Fox said McPhee was particularly focused on earning a win over Tech in his final opportunity and hit the gym earlier in the week to work on his shot. After lofting about 100 jumpers, McPhee had made nearly 80, and the hot shooting carried over to the court against Tech.

"Coming off the road, I wanted to get some shots up," McPhee said. "It helped me out tonight just getting in a good rhythm out there."

At 8-4 entering conference play with big wins already in the books against Tech and Illinois, it's not just McPhee that finds himself in a good rhythm.

It was a signature win in the early going Tuesday, but more important, McPhee said, is that it becomes the start of something bigger.

"We're playing really good right now," McPhee said. "We're just happy with where we're going and we're getting better each day. And there's just so much more to come for us."

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