Visiting Georgia threw the host Bulldogs entirely off their shooting stride, holding Mississippi State to season-low scoring in a 66-57 victory at Humphrey Coliseum. Georgia left 14-9, 7-5 SEC and with a fourth-straight success in the series.
The Bulldogs are 10-14, 3-9 after having all the good feelings from a Tuesday blowout of Arkansas blown away. Coming off easily their best all-around show of SEC season, Mississippi State managed to make just 31% of their field goal attempts. That, as well as the final 57 points, were actually inflated by a rash of late and mostly-unchallenged baskets long after Georgia had put this one away.
In fact, where the Bulldogs ought have had some momentum for this home game, the visitors were recovering from a rout at Kentucky. So much for those trends.
“It’s very frustrating after a great effort in our last game to do this,” Coach Ben Howland said. “But Georgia had a lot to do with it.”
A whole lot. After an ugly quarter-or-so that lived down to the worst impressions of SEC basketball, Georgia took control before halftime and magnified their margin to as much as 22 points in the second period. It was a total reversal of State fortune following Tuesday’s rout of the Razorbacks.
“I just felt we didn’t come out and play as hard as we did the other day,” guard Craig Sword said. And certainly not as well.
“Give Georgia credit,” Howland said. “I thought they really took it to us at both ends.”
Georgia’s Yante Maten certainly did. The big forward overpowered everyone in his way or just as likely got himself wide-open for easy baskets. Maten scored 15 of his game-high 25 points in the first half and finished shooting 10-of-16. “He killed us,” Sword said.
Swingman Charles Mann was maybe more efficient, with 7-of-10 shooting and a couple of made-treys to score 21 points. With that sort of inside/outside punch Georgia was able to offset off-nights from shooters Kenny Gaines and J.J. Frazier, a combined 1-of-9 at the arc.
“They came out and didn’t run any sets that we went over,” Bulldog guard Quindarry Weatherspoon said.
Weatherspoon was talking of UG’s offense. He could just as easily been talking of their zone defense, though. Howland did state that State practiced for some zone looks but naturally expected Georgia to stick with their more typical man-approach. What the MSU coach could not know was why his counterpart changed plans.
Fox said he saw a ‘tired’ team during the morning shootaround which encouraged a different defense. “We did that more so out of fatigue than anything strategic. So we decided to play more zone.”
So Georgia was as surprised as the Bulldogs were frustrated about how well the UG zone worked. Mississippi State made just 26% of shots in the first half to trail 32-21. Howland said his team didn’t try hard enough to attack from the high post and settled for looks from either wing. To be sure a lot of those same shots had dropped in the last game; this time most missed.
“Our shots weren’t falling and we had to attack more,” Weatherspoon said. “But we were still settling for jump shots.”
Georgia used bursts of 6-0 and 8-0 in the second half to build their 51-29 lead by 13:33. Ironically that might have loosened up both the defense and MSU shooting arms because State did manage a 12-0 tear with long shots suddenly swishing. By 9:40 it was a 51-41 game with Bulldog ball.
But a turnover by guard Fred Thomas forcing an upcourt pass gave Georgia the ball back. They went right to Maten and his baseline hook shot was good. A minute later MSU guard IJ Ready knocked the ball free on UG’s end, only to have it roll over perfectly to Mann in the corner alone. He stuck the three.
As late as 1:07 it was a 63-46 scoreboard. So a late barrage of MSU buckets, twice off inbounds steals, only made the margin more respectable. Weatherspoon finished with 17 points and Sword 13, while Ready got some late points to tally nine total.
But center Gavin Ware managed just six points on his 16.3 average, the same as his total shots taken. Nor did he attempt a free throw in 25 minutes. “For Gavin to not get to the foul line is a bad sign for us,” Howland said. So was putting up 28 treys (eight made) out of 68 shots.
“Our inability to attack the zone was a real problem, not getting the ball to the high post. And I thought we had great practices, I felt good going into today’s game.”
Georgia had a ten-rebound margin in their favor, which along with State’s poor shooting did much to overcome twenty turnovers. “Coming off a loss our guys were determined to play well,” Fox said. “And we did play well.”
Now Mississippi State prepares for another SEC guest that is playing well. Vanderbilt completes this three-game homestand with an 8:00 contest. And, “We’ll definitely see zone Tuesday night,” Howland warned.