Disappointing was a mild description. Being dominated at home by a reasonably comparable ball club was tough enough for Coach Rick Ray to watch. "That's why it's so disappointing that we come out his way," Ray said. "That team is not 20 points better than us in one half."
Which pointed to the worst part. Mississippi State was in charge for the first quarter or so and held a 14-point lead at 9:54. What came afterwards was simply disastrous, and self-inflicted for the most part.
Georgia (13-10, 7-4 SEC) did increase their intensity. After falling behind 22-8 the visiting Bulldogs went to work where State was least-intense: inside. Not simply in the lane but right under the rim. Georgia scored six of their eight first-half baskets on layups to pull ahead at intermission by a point, then came back for more in the second period. A lot more.
"They were layups," Ray said. "It wasn't they were breaking us down and contested shots. Everything they got was in the paint." Georgia sizzled in the second half making 17 of 23 shots, 74% and getting those point-blank opportunities with ridiculous ease. Not by great ball movement or aggressive drives, just easy passes to the post that were converted.
"You're not going to win any games when a team shoots 74% in the half," Ray said. "And we're not going to win any games when we shoot 25 threes."
This was almost as aggravating to the coach as the lack of basic defensive effort in the second half. A Bulldog team that knows its liabilities from long range tried to make itself an outside shooting offense. And failed, save for one short first-half spurt which was actually fools gold and encouraged Dogs to keep jacking treys. Of the 25 attempts just three went good.
Asked if there was a failure by Bulldogs to follow instructions, "Yeah, there's a disconnect," Ray said. "They shouldn't shoot that many threes."
Georgia's final 54% accuracy overall was startling in light of how they started, missing every attempt—short or long—for over six minutes. All they had to show were four free throws until Brandon Morris got a jumper to drop at 13:47. By then State, which was pretty chilly itself to begin, had gone up 10-2. And after Georgia cut the deficit to a basket the Bulldogs went on their best stretch of the evening.
Trivante Bloodman hit a three, Cunningham another and Fred Thomas the third to build that 22-8 margin. This came with Georgia starting post Marcus Thornton on the bench with fouls, and the team's jumpers not falling. Yet the home team didn't know when to stop shooting from far and a series of missed trey tries let Georgia off the hook.
Worse came from an unlikely threat, as freshman and Mississippi native Kenny Geno subbed in and got to a miss for the tip. He added two more short shots to spark the rally, and more importantly show his team where to attack. The starting frontcourt took over and scored trip after trip on barely-contested looks.
"I believe we were basing everything off our offense." Cunningham said. "And once our shots weren't falling we weren't staying focused on defense." In fact State missed its last eight shots of the half and gave Georgia the 28-27 lead on a foolish foul 70 feet from the goal by Thomas for go-ahead free throws at 1.7 seconds. Georgia came out the second half as if there'd been no pause, beating Bulldogs into the low post for the highest of percentage chances. At the same time State players were forcing jumpers and missing, falling behind 41-31 by 15:00.
And it didn't get better from there. Georgia never led by less than double-digits the final 14:37. For their part the Bulldogs scored just one basket, a layup by Craig Sword, from 18:43 to 12:07. The defense wasn't just poor but lacking entirely as the frontcourt Dogs played flat-footed. Ray had no answer.
"In the first half it was our mistakes. But I still thought we were doing some things we needed to, we weren't giving up layups. But in the second half we didn't defend at all."
Guard Charles Mann had a game-best 19 points for Georgia with over half his points coming on free throws. Juwan Parker came off the bench for 16, and while forward Donte Williams scored just five he had 10 of the team's 38 rebounds with three blocks.
Only Sword scored double-digits for the Bulldogs, 10 points on 3-of-11 shooting as he had to force most attempts. Thomas added nine points with six rebounds, while the team shot just 34% overall. State's sixth-straight SEC loss leaves them 3-8 in the league and 13-11 overall.
And, headed back out on the conference road where the Dogs have yet to win. They are at Auburn this Saturday (12:30) and at LSU next week. A collapse like this does nothing to offer confidence, but "I guess it's part of it right now," Ready said. "We have to go figure it out."