In a battle of Bulldogs, Georgia outlasted Samford to win 79-75 at Stegeman Coliseum on Saturday night. It took Georgia over 38 minutes of gameplay for it to take its first lead, but it closed with a strong performance down the stretch to stay undefeated.
“I told our team right after the game, that was a character win,” said Georgia head coach Tom Crean. “You don’t give in, you don’t give up, you don’t panic, you just keep coming. We got better inside of the game.”
Justin Kier led Georgia with 18 points and also added five rebounds and three assists. Kier has thrived playing off of Sahvir Wheeler to start the season, but Saturday night showed Kier can be the go-to scoring option for Georgia as well. Kier credited his experience allowing him to be successful in big moments.
“I’ve played a lot of games,” said Kier. “I just try to stay calm and try to keep our guys calm. We stayed mature and I think that’s why I think this team can be really special.”
Samford led by as many as 13 points in the first half and forced Georgia to only shoot 34.5% before the break. Samford also out-rebounded Georgia 25-20 in the first half, where the (home) Bulldogs were fortunate to only be trailing by four when the period ended.
Georgia came out stronger in the second half and cut the deficit to one point multiple times, although Samford was able to counter back with baskets of its own after most of those opportunities. The (home) Bulldogs out-rebounded Samford 26-13 and shot 50% from the field in the second half, helping Georgia find a way back into the game.
Georgia took its first lead with 1:17 left to go in the game on a layup by Jaxon Etter, a player who normally only plays sparingly. After a Samford layup to tie the game again at 73 with 1:01 left, Wheeler made two free throws to give Georgia a lead they never lost again with 32 seconds remaining.
“I just remain calm and remain confident… I think that’s what the game of basketball is,” said Wheeler. I have a routine, I stick to it… that’s the stuff you want to be in as a player.”
Senior guard Myron Gordon had a game-high 29 points for Samford. He shot 9 of 14 from the field, including four 3-pointers made. Samford’s tough effort against a Georgia team that was favored by 18 points did not go unnoticed, either.
“That’s a tough team, that’s a great team,” said Kier. “They are really well-coached.”
Georgia improves to 5-0 on the season, which has not happened since 2001. Next, it will face Cincinnati next Saturday, which should be Georgia’s toughest test of the season so far. The Bearcats gave the 12th ranked Tennessee Volunteers a tough matchup Saturday, only losing by nine points in Knoxville.
Samford falls to 2-2 and will travel to Troy University, where they will play the Trojans on Wednesday.