Three days after giving up 115 points on the road at Alabama, the Georgia Bulldogs bounced back to beat the Missouri Tigers 80-70 at Stegeman Coliseum. Tuesday night was the first time that a ranked team has visited Athens this year, and the Bulldogs made the most of their opportunity against No. 20 Missouri.
Graduate transfer Justin Kier finally snapped out of a shooting slump, where he was 2-of-14 in his last two games. Kier was Georgia’s leading scorer with 16 points and only missed one of his seven shots. Georgia also displayed one of its best closing efforts of the season, turning a double-digit deficit into a double-digit win.
“They gave me some stuff that I liked,” said Kier. “I felt like I was being hesitant on attacking the paint in these last couple of games, so I had to just get my rhythm back. Individually, just not forcing anything and just taking what the game is giving me … I just try to be aggressive.”
Sophomore guard Jaxon Etter said Monday that there was no reason for the team to be discouraged following back-to-back losses at Tennessee and Alabama. Though it sounded a bit cliche at the time, Georgia’s attitude on the court ended up confirming Etter’s statement. Missouri led by four at halftime and outscored Georgia 11-2 to start the second half, extending the lead to 13 points.
Georgia then responded with an offensive surge that has been lacking for most of the season during the closing stretch of games. The Bulldogs reached the bonus with over 13 minutes remaining in the game and started the comeback by getting easy points at the free-throw line. Georgia then locked in on both sides of the ball going on a 9-0 scoring run in the second half to cut the deficit to two points. Georgia also made five of its six 3-pointers in the second half, including two important ones from Kier which helped Georgia take the lead.
Five Georgia players scored in double-figures, again showing head coach Tom Crean’s emphasis on a “collective offense.” Players like K.D. Johnson, Jaxon Etter and Andrew Garcia all played big roles in sculpting the comeback with the energy that they each brought. Perhaps it’s the walk-on story, but Jaxon Etter continues to get overwhelmingly loud cheers from the crowd when he makes plays.
“Anytime we have Jaxon [Etter] and K.D. [Johnson] in there, they bring an energy level and a competitiveness level that I think helps the guys,” said Crean. “After the timeout we took, I thought they really regrouped, I thought they really changed and then we started to have some success again.”
Missouri likes to play fast and get its shots early in the shot clock. Crean talked about this before the game, and obviously had his team prepared for what the Tigers were going to bring. Georgia held Missouri to 23% from beyond the arc on 6-of-26 shooting. The Bulldogs also won the rebounding category against a big and physical Missouri team. Georgia forward Toumani Camara had a game-high eight rebounds. Kobe Brown scored a game-high 21 points for Missouri.
Although the Tigers lost two straight games coming into this matchup, they are a talented group of players led by a good coach in Cuonzo Martin. The Bulldogs got a much-needed win heading into the final three games of the season. With how competitive the SEC has been this season, a win like this has the potential to change the course for the rest of the season.
“I think it builds our confidence, but we know we can’t settle though,” said Kier. “We can’t slip up now, we want to build off of this. We’re happy with this win, but we’re not satisfied.”
Georgia improves to 13-8 (6-8) and will next head to Gainesville to play Florida for a second time this season. So far, Georgia has won both of its games when seeing a team for the second time (Ole Miss and Auburn). That game will tip off at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday and will be broadcast on SEC Network.