ATHENS, Ga.-- Jarvis Hayes and Ezra Williams scored 16 points apiece to lead No. 20 Georgia to an 83-70 win over Vanderbilt Saturday afternoon before a sold-out Stegeman Coliseum crowd. Forced to play much of the second half without Matt Freije and Brian Thornton (foul trouble), not to mention Coach Kevin Stallings (ejected after a second technical foul), the Commodores fought gamely and kept the game close until the game's final minutes.
It was the fourth straight loss for Vanderbilt, which dropped to 3-8 in the conference and 10-12 overall. The Bulldogs improved to 14-7 overall, 6-4 in the conference. Georgia remained unbeaten at home for the season, and Vanderbilt remained winless on the road.
The Commodores were led by Corey Smith (14 points) and freshman Julian Terrell, who registered a career high in points and a double-double (13 points, 11 rebounds). Mario Moore was the only other Commodore in double figures, with 10 points.
Stallings was ejected with 16:00 left in the game. The Commodore skipper was assessed two technical fouls after protesting a no-call on a rebound after a missed Georgia free throw. Assistant Coach Jeff Jackson directed the Commodores from the bench for the remainder of the contest.
Nonetheless, Stallings was upbeat afterwards about the fact that his team had fought hard under difficult circumstances-- something he had been unable to say after the previous three losses. "More than anything else, I was pleased with the competitive spirit in our team, and how hard they fought," he said. "I thought that was really important."
The game was almost a polar opposite of the previous meeting in Nashville on Jan. 29, in which Vanderbilt scored a 94-91 upset victory over the Bulldogs. In that game both teams moved up and down the floor and shot over 50%; in this game, both teams came out cold and struggled in the halfcourt. Georgia hit a meager 42%, while the Commodores hit only 34%.
Meanwhile referees Tony Greene, Jamie Jones and Jamie Luckie whistled a total of 59 fouls-- 31 on Vanderbilt and 28 on Georgia. Matt Freije, Vandy's leading scorer, played only 19 minutes after picking up his third foul with 8:52 left in the first half. Brian Thornton, limited by untimely fouls to 16 minutes, fouled out with five minutes left in the game with 7 points and 5 rebounds .
The Bulldogs hit 34 of a staggering 45 free throw attempts.
As was the case in Vandy's last three games, all losses, Stallings' troops struggled mightily from the floor in the first half, shooting a miserable 28%. The Commodores were able numerous time to loosen up Georgia's defense, only to miss easy baskets underneath. Brian Thornton missed two shots from point-blank range; Julian Terrell missed three, and Freije another.
But the Commodores turned up the defense a notch in the early going, and though they never led in the first half, they kept the No. 20 Bulldogs within striking distance. Had Vandy not had such difficulty scoring from inside, it might have had a chance to build a big lead over the Dawgs, as it had done on Jan. 29.
With Freije riding the bench after picking up his third foul, Georgia opened up a 9-point lead in the first half at 26-17. Instead of folding, as had been the recent trend, the Dores fought back to cut Georgia's lead to 31-28 just before halftime on a Julian Terrell layup. The Bulldogs held an ugly 33-28 lead at the break.
In the crucial first few minutes of the second half, Georgia converted some steals into baskets and reeled off the first 11 points to take a 44-28 lead. Stallings called two quick time-outs to stop the bleeding. Freije picked up his fourth foul with 16:47 left on a questionable call.
Feeling his team was getting the raw end of things before a rowdy, hostile road crowd, Stallings drew a technical for mouthing off to a referee, then a second technical and an automatic ejection for continuing to argue. He was forced to listen to the remainder of the game from the locker room over radio.
After the technicals, Georgia's Richard Wehunt hit four straight free throws to push Georgia's lead to 48-32 with 16:08 left. Still, Vanderbilt refused to fold-- the Commodores went on a 13-2 run to cut the lead 52-47.
"As best I could tell they fought hard [after my ejection]," said Stallings. "We've got good kids on our team. They're loyal to each other, and loyal to each other. It's our job to stay together and fight for each other. That's what I was doing when I got the technicals, and that's probably what they were doing in the aftermath."
Freije returned to the game with 10:05 left and promptly canned two 3-pointers to cut the Bulldogs' lead to 58-53. Corey Smith added a free throw to make it 58-54, but Vandy could get no closer than four points. Thornton hit two free throws to cut it to 62-58, but the Bulldogs responded by hitting the game's next seven points to effectively put the game out of reach. The shorthanded Commodores made a desperate try to get back into the game by fouling, but Georgia made its free throws, and Vandy failed to convert on the offensive end.
Vanderbilt now gets a week off before returning to the Memorial Gym hardwood for a Saturday evening matchup against Billy Donovan's No. 5 Florida Gators. The Commodores lost 87-75 to Florida in a Jan. 22 meeting in Gainesville, Fla. The Gators (20-4, 9-2) were upset Saturday by Tennessee in Knoxville, 66-59.