Not just credit, but a W. For that matter there was nothing given about Saturday afternoon’s 70-68 overtime decision. Visiting Georgia earned their victory, as guard Gerald Robinson scored eight of his team’s 11 overtime points including two free throws at 0:24 for a four-point margin that held up. Georgia left with a 12-12 record and 3-7 SEC mark.
#20-ranked Mississippi State left their own court 19-6, 6-4 SEC…and in near-disbelief. Not only had they suffered their first home loss in league play; the Bulldogs had just fallen to a team ranking at or near the bottom of every most league offensive categories.
“We didn’t come to play,” Bost said. “That’s not an excuse. We just didn’t bring it.”
Georgia did bring it. Physically overmatched, on the road, and facing a team with a 12-game home winning streak, the Bulldogs brought their best. Or close enough to it. Outsized and outweighed all over the court Georgia had a 40-33 rebound edge, with an amazing 18 offensive boards. They only shot 40% overall but that was still better than their SEC game-worst 37% coming in.
And from the arc, Georgia stuck eleven three-point goals compared to State’s eight. Only one of those came in OT but it was a biggie, the last of guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s six treys and at 1:08 after Mississippi State had taken a brief lead. Georgia didn’t trail again.
“Give them credit, they made a lot of shots and they made plays,” said Bost.
No UG Dog more so than Robinson, who for 39 regulation was having a rough afternoon making just two of 13 shots in regulation. But one of those made all the difference. With State up 59-57 after one Renardo Sidney free throw, it was Robinson driving through traffic for the tying layup at 0:28. State’s Jalen Steele had a three-point shot to win it that missed.
Forty seconds into overtime Robinson did it again against flat-footed State interior defense. He tied it up at 63-all with free throws, then made probably the key play by stepping in front of Rodney Hood’s crosscourt pass for a breakaway dunk. “We had a bad turnover there,” Coach Rick Stansbury said, though “We had plenty of opportunities.”
Because State had a lead again after Steele’ made-trey at 1:26…which Caldwell-Pope answered. Sidney rushed a jumper from the key and State had to foul twice before UG was sent to the stripe. Robinson made both that time. He would miss the front end of a 1-and-1 at eight seconds with a two-point lead giving the host Dogs their last shot. Bost took it, an awkward one from three-point range that was well wide.
“Obviously that was a great win for our team,” Coach Mark Fox said. “We beat a terrific team, a team I’ve been voting higher in the rankings than they are.” In fact, the Georgia coach added, “Our respect was one of the keys to winning the game. We really got ready to play and played very well.”
Stansbury had some forebodings that might be the case, warning that Georgia is a different team these days. “They started making shots about three games ago. And they made shots today. But nowhere in that game did I feel like we ever got that emotion and energy at the level it has to be.”
Whether from a lack of respect of whatever reason, the home Dogs were not the same themselves. Just, in an opposite direction from a club that had throttled rival Ole Miss two nights earlier. State could not exert all its advantages in size, strength, and home-court confidence as expected against a struggling opponent. Stansbury suggested the Thursday-Saturday schedule was a factor in his team not being ready, despite the fact this team has already dealt with the two-day turnaround this season successfully.
“My concern is what beat us,” Stansbury said. “That was our ability physically and mentally to be able to put that one Thursday behind and get your level of energy and emotion back up. It’s obvious that didn’t happen, against a very good Georgia team.”
Certainly Georgia was a better team offensively than before. Robinson fell short of his season average with 13 total points, though of course he made all the markers that mattered in overtime. “Gerald really controlled our possessions well,” Fox said. “He had a huge steal in overtime and two free throws, those are big senior plays.” It was Caldwell-Pope carrying the club otherwise with 20 points, 18 of them on treys, along with eight rebounds and three assists. Fox noted that after some early errors with the ball Pope heard it from his coach in a timeout.
“I chewed him a little, I think he felt guilty. And boy, he made up for it in a big way.” Guard Dustin Ware hit three threes of his own and netted 11 points, while the surprise was 11 points from Donte Williams. Or was the surprise nine rebound by Marcus Thornton? Either way the UG frontcourt and for that matter their short guards were magnificent going to the glass. And if they failed most of the time to convert second chances into points, each offensive rebound was less time State had the ball.
“Georgia is a team that grinds it out with you,” Stansbury said. “You give up rebounds and that’s a killer.”
Even then the home Bulldogs ought to have won, and in overtime. State pounded the ball inside early to center Sidney and forward Arnett Moultrie, and when Georgia’s zone tightened Bost and Steele rained treys. Maybe too well, because State seemed to forget about attacking the goal too often. Moultrie took only six shots in 37 minutes, a stat made much worse in that he hit on five of the attempts and made both his free throws.
Moultrie wouldn’t listen to the idea he was tired after a tough Thursday game. “I wasn’t feeling different. No explanation,” he said. “The zone wasn’t that tough.”
“Arnett is about energy,” Stansbury said. “But you saw, he just didn’t have it.” Sidney finished with 10 points and 12 rebounds and blocked three shots. Yet like Moultrie there were too few stretches his teammates brought him the ball repeatedly, zone or not, so Sidney could simply overpower outmatched opponents. “He did OK,” Stansbury said. “Just kind of like everybody else. No one was at their best. Nobody.”
Bost scored a game-best 21 on 8-of-17 shooting but was 3-of-10 at the arc. Steele was sharper, 4-of-7 on trey tries for 15 points.
Stansbury’s fears were borne out immediately. While Georgia had just five shots and one basket through six minutes, State wasn’t seizing any opportunity to set a tone. Not until Bost and Steele shot over the zone for a 16-9 lead. Something must have rubbed off on the other team though as Pope and Ware got to popping too and caught Georgia up. State never could muster more than a four-point lead the rest of regulation despite frequent chances.
The last one coming after Robinson’s front-end free throw rolled into Moultrie’s hands with eight ticks left to set up something. “I thought he was going to call a timeout,” Bost admitted. “But I guess he wanted us to push it and catch them off-guard.” Georgia did a good job getting everyone back though and Bost had to heave it up with bodies on either side.
Stansbury said he never considered using one of the three remaining timeouts. “Nah, it’s a free-flowing defense getting back in transition, versus a set defense.”
“We still had our chances. Not being at our best we had plenty opportunities to close out that game. Give Georgia credit, they played well and made shots.”
The only sliver of a bright spot in the day came from Gainesville where #8 Florida was upset by Tennessee. Thus State wasn’t the only ranked SEC team to have lost a home game this season so far. Besides that, equal losses kept the Bulldogs just a game back of the 7-3 Gators as the second half of SEC season is underway. The real damage was to pride, and to eventual NCAA seeding status.
“It happens to a lot of teams,” shrugged Bost. “I guess it happened to us.”
State is on the road twice next week against Tiger teams, playing at LSU on Tuesday and Auburn on Saturday. The Bulldogs will be favored in each matchup, but then they were supposed to take care of this one too. Now Stansbury has something to goad his guys with for their upcoming tests.
“When you don’t get that level every night this is what can happen,” he said. “There’s no easy games, guys. Especially when you’re not at your best.”
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