ATHENS, Ga. - It didn't take Jim Harrick long to put Steve Thomas back in his starting lineup.
It didn't take Thomas long to start making up for lost time.
His academic eligibility officially restored only two hours before tipoff, Thomas sparked the Bulldogs to a 94-82 win over South Alabama Wednesday night at Stegeman Coliseum.
Thomas missed the first seven games of the season while ineligible for fall semester.
Georgia still had to wait for the NCAA to issue the official clearance on Thomas' eligibility even after knowing Thomas had earned the required grades.
That word reached Harrick about 5 p.m. Wednesday and the coach didn't hesitate to quickly give the 6-foot-8 Thomas - Georgia's tallest player - his first start.
"(Thomas) has been practicing; he knows what we're doing,'' Harrick said. "We scrimmage a lot.''
Thomas scored 15 points with six rebounds, four blocked shots and two assists.
"Man, it seems like it's been a whole year,'' said Thomas, a junior from Carrollton, Ga. "I've got everything behind me now. I just feel like winning.''
Georgia (5-3) has won four straight games, but Harrick did not have his most physical player until Wednesday night. The addition of Thomas clears forwards Chris Daniels, Damien Wilkins and others to assume more natural roles.
"Steve Thomas made a big difference tonight for Georgia,'' said South Alabama first-year coach John Pelphrey, who had prepared for the game based on game film of the Bulldogs without Thomas.
Added Pelphrey: "His presence in the paint, both scoring and rebounding, as well as blocking shots, helped Georgia.''
Before the academic problems, Thomas had to have his name cleared as one of three Georgia student-athletes charged in an alleged sexual assault on campus.
The charges against each of the three were dismissed in August, and Thomas also passed the inspection of the University of Georgia's Student Judiciary Council.
Jarvis Hayes led Georgia with 19 points. Chris Daniels added 15 with team-best totals of eight assists and five blocked shots.
"I think having (Thomas) back helped everybody,'' Daniels said.
Georgia starting guards Rashad Wright (10 points, six assists) and Ezra Williams (nine points, four assists) scored all their points in the second half.
Forward Henry Williams and 3-point shooter Chris Young each scored 18 points for South Alabama.
Playing its first home game in almost four weeks, Georgia could not put away Pelphrey's quick and scrappy South Alabama team.
Georgia took the lead for good on a Thomas jump shot with 8:32 left in the first half. The basket triggered a 13-0 run that gave Georgia a 40-27 lead.
Despite taking a big lead of 17 points at 60-43 about five minutes into the second half, Georgia could not relax as the Jaguars (4-4) pulled back to within six points with 1:57 left to play.
Georgia plays host to Appalachian State Sunday at 2 p.m.