Dawgs' Bench Powers Past Gators

ATHENS – Before his team hit the court against Florida, Mark Fox settled in to watch a few minutes of another marquee SEC matchup.

Like his Bulldogs, Kentucky had just played a game Thursday, and with fewer than 48 hours to recover, the Wildcats looked sluggish.

Georgia's bench had hardly been a strong suit for the team this season, but seeing highly ranked Kentucky stumble with little rest, he knew what to expect from his own team, and his message to his bench was clear: It was their time to shine.

The Bulldogs' backups answered the call, and after a blazing first half put Georgia up big, reserve center Albert Jackson's last-second deflection of a Dan Werner pass helped stave off a late Florida run and clinch a 78-76 victory.

"Our bench has been criticized, and I've been one of the guys criticizing it," said Fox, who didn't allow any of his starters to speak with the media after the game. "Our bench (Saturday) really helped us. I told them before the game we were going to play a lot of players, and those kids did a nice job."

Sophomore Trey Thompkins led the way for Georgia with 20 points, but it was the Bulldogs' bench that proved to be the difference. The reserves accounted for 31 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists in the game, and Jackson's last-second heroics provided the exclamation point in a win that looked eerily similar to so many crushing defeats Georgia has suffered earlier in the year.

"Once I saw .1 (on the clock) I was pretty happy," Jackson said. "Once I saw that .1, I knew it was over, and I had a smile on my face."

Thompkins and freshman Demario Mayfield combined for 13 points in the final three minutes of the first half, and the Bulldogs went to the break on a 10-0 run.

But the 15-point lead Georgia enjoyed to start the second half evaporated down the stretch due in part to some impressive shooting by the Gators – Florida connected in 62 percent of its second-half field goals after shooting just 33 percent in the first – and some shaky defense by the weary Bulldogs.

It was a night-and-day performance for both sides offensively.

The 3 ball had been Florida's bread and butter during the first half, with six of the Gators' 11 baskets coming from beyond the arc, but the pendulum swung in the second half. Georgia held a 24-8 edge in the paint during the first 20 minutes, but Florida responded by outscoring the Bulldogs 22-16 in the post in the second frame.

"We didn't guard very well and they lit us up in the second half," Fox said. "We were fortunate the clock ran out because we were having a tough time getting stops."

On offense, Georgia shot a scorching 64 percent from the field in the first half, but Thompkins was slowed in the second, tallying just six points, Travis Leslie found himself in foul trouble and posted just three points in the final 31 minutes, and nine second-half turnovers by the Dogs led to 16 points for Florida.

While Thompkins and Leslie struggled, however, the bench stepped up.

Jeremy Price was a perfect 6-of-6 shooting for the game, finishing with 13 points and five boards and three assists, while guard Ebuka Anyaorah had nine points and Vincent Williams chipped in with three assists.

"(Fox) had been stressing that the bench had to come in and help and not just mess things up," Williams said. "The starters get a lot of minutes, and it was time for us to step up and give them a little blow when they needed it."

Still, Florida was tenacious behind Chandler Parsons, who led all scorers with 29, and Kenny Boynton, who dominated down the stretch and finished with 22.

Yet it was Werner who had a chance to seal the win for the Gators in a frantic final stretch. Georgia failed to get a shot off on its final possession, and when a pass found Werner all alone on the right wing, it looked like the Bulldogs would watch another lead completely evaporate.

Instead of putting up the 3, however, Werner changed his mind in midair and attempted to dish the ball underneath to Vernon Macklin. Jackson stepped out and swatted the pass away, then swung around to see the clock with just one-tenth of a second left on it.

"I was surprised," Anyaorah said of the Werner's decision to pass up a shot at the end. "I was like, ‘He's wide open.' But I'm glad (Jackson) knocked it away, and I guess that big body scared him."

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