The University of Georgia Men’s Basketball team was defeated by the Ole Miss Rebels 78-74 on Tuesday night in Stegeman Coliseum. The loss to a team the Dawgs had previously beaten in Oxford carried an extra layer of discouragement as the game fell short of achieving its presumed goal of getting back on the right track following consecutive 20+ point losses during last week’s road trip.
A bright spot in the disappointing outcome, Braelen Bridges led all scorers with a career-high 26 points on an impressive 10-13 field goal shooting. Kario Oquendo added his best offensive performance in recent memory in dropping 19 points on 7-14 shooting, while Justin Hill chipped in 13 to go along with 7 assists to only 1 turnover. Jaemyn Brakefield carried the load for the Rebels with 24 points on a sizzling 11-15 shooting night, and Myles Burns vastly exceeded his season average of 6.7 points per game while pouring in 20. The only Rebel who averaged double figures entering the contest posted an uncharacteristically bad shooting performance, as Matthew Murrell’s 2-11 evening adds an additional sting to Georgia’s 74-point losing effort.
The first half was a back-and-forth affair in which neither team proved able to separate from the other on the scoreboard, as reflected through the 8 different instances of a tie score and 9 lead changes in the period. The largest lead for either team came by way of a 5-point advantage for the Dawgs with 5:51 remaining after Oquendo scored 5 straight with an acrobatic layup and deep 3-Pointer. Although Bridges posted a team-high 14 points, Oquendo’s 12 first-half points amounted to perhaps the most encouraging storyline for Georgia fans who desperately sought a bounce-back performance from one of their team’s premier players following a 2-point outing in only 12 minutes in the brutal loss to Texas A&M. Seeing the ball go through the net in the early helped spark the momentum for what eventually became the junior guard’s most effective offensive game in quite some time. Not to be outdone, Bridges started the contest with supreme poise and confidence, sinking 5 of his 7 field goal attempts and leading all rebounders with 5. As the Rebels’ tallest starter stands just 6’8”, the 6’11” Bridges made his presence felt inside early and often, allowing Georgia to run their offense through him in the low post frequently. Although the Dawgs held the lead for 13:41 of play in the first period, they entered the locker room at halftime trailing by a point after the red-hot Brakefield buried his 6th shot in 7 attempts with a 3-Pointer off a curl screen. In alignment with the scoring column, the two squads recorded nearly identical numbers in almost every relevant statistical category, matching one another in both offensive and defensive rebounders and each turning the ball over 5 times. Although both teams maintained relative effectiveness scoring throughout the period, they did so almost entirely in the half-court as they combined for just 3 fast break points while relying on execution and ball movement as the pace slowed.
In the early part of the second half, the Dawgs relied heavily on the duo of Bridges and Oquendo on the offensive end as the tandem combined for 16 of Georgia’s first 20 points in the period. The interior dominance exhibited in the first half only elevated for Bridges in the first 11 minutes of the second as he repeatedly skied over defenders to snag offensive rebounds and finish down low. Disappointingly, said dominance halted abruptly after Bridge’s 10th bucket, which came with 8:38 left to play; the Dawgs failed to afford Bridges another shot attempt for the last eight and a half minutes of action. When asked about the lack of opportunities for their leading scorer down the stretch, Mike White commented that “obviously that’s not the way you want to draw it up. We had a couple possessions where I thought we had Braelen on that right block right in front of our bench and didn’t give it to him.” Aside from the absence of scoring chances, Bridges, who tallied 11 rebounds, was also deprived of a crucial rebounding opportunity as he sat on the sidelines during a critical Ole Miss possession in a 1-point game while Frank Anselem, who failed to grab a rebound in the contest, manned the middle in his place in hopes of providing a defensive advantage. After a sound defensive possession, Georgia allowed an offensive rebound before their hand was forced to put Ole Miss at the line to extend their advantage. The Rebels took care of business down the stretch from the charity stripe as Murrell made up for his poor shooting from the field by dropping in the final 7 Ole Miss points from the foul line.
Oddly, the two squads mustered a combined score of 152 despite each shooting below 20% from 3-Point range. Neither team converted on a deep ball in 14 joint tries throughout the entirety of the second half, which seems as rare a statistical anomaly as one could imagine in such a competitive and skilled conference.
The loss on Tuesday marks Georgia’s 6th in their last seven games and brings the Dawgs to 14-10 on the season and 4-7 in SEC play. The team now prepares to host Kentucky on Saturday at 12 PM in front of what will likely be a sell-out crowd in Stegeman Coliseum.