The University of Georgia Men’s Basketball team was defeated by the Texas A&M Aggies 81-79 in a wild finish on Tuesday night in Stegeman Coliseum.
The Dawgs were led offensively by Kario Oquendo and Noah Baumann, who scored 21 and 19 points, respectively. Braelen Bridges added 12 points, all of which came in the second half, and 7 rebounds. Duke transfer Henry Coleman III led all scorers with 23 points for the Aggies while snagging 7 rebounds. Marcus Williams dropped 18 points on 7-12 shooting, including a miraculous go-ahead 3-Pointer with 1.2 seconds remaining to win the game.
The Aggies came out hot to start the game, connecting on their first 2 3-Point attempts and sinking a pair of free-throws as Andre Gordon and Marcus Williams put A&M up 8-2 after three and a half minutes of action. The Dawgs were able to stray from their habit of slow starts in the first half, however, as energizing plays like a wing 3-Pointer from Noah Baumann and an emphatic, posterizing two-handed put back dunk from Kario Oquendo helped Georgia hang around early. Jabri Abdur-Rahim showed instantly showed great energy after coming off the bench, staying active on the offensive boards and drawing fouls to get easy points at the free-throw line; the forward would end the game with 5 offensive rebounds. Following a pair of Abdur-Rahim free-throws which cut the A&M lead to 4 points, a 6-0 Aggie scoring spurt with buckets from Coleman and Ethan Henderson would give the Aggies their first double-digit lead of the evening at a score of 24-14 with 8:58 remaining in the half. The Dawgs would answer with a 7-0 scoring run of their own, capped with a nice cut and reverse finish from Jaxon Etter coming off a great feed from Bridges which cut the Aggie lead to just 3. In the spirit of trading scoring runs, Coleman went to work down low as A&M scored 7 unanswered to put the Aggies back up by 10 at a score of 33-23 with 4:34 to play in the half. After trading buckets for the next minute and a half, A&M connected on three consecutive 3-Pointers, two of which came from Wade Taylor IV and one from Hassan Diarra, in what was their largest scoring run of the night to give the team their biggest lead of 18 points with 1:06 on the clock. Georgia ended the half with a pair of and-1’s from Christian Wright and Oquendo to give the Dawgs some momentum heading into halftime at a score of 46-34.
The aforementioned “slow start” theme caught up with the Bulldogs in the second half as the Aggies began the period on a 7-2 run after a pair of layups from Coleman and Tyrece Radford and a 3-Pointer from Williams. Then down by 17 points at a score of 55-38, the momentum seemed entirely in favor of the Aggies as the game appeared close to getting out of reach.
In his post-game press conference, guard Kario Oquendo commented on his team’s ability to fight back after finding themselves in a substantial deficit, saying that “when we face adversity, we come out and play hard,” adding that “one play where we get juiced up as a team” has the tendency to alter the course of the game.
On Tuesday night, the “juice play” (to which such momentum-shifting plays will hereby be referred) was delivered by Oquendo himself as he blew past a late closeout before taking off outside the paint for a thunderous one-handed tomahawk dunk. The slam ignited a fervor in both the crowd and the Bulldog players, sparking the largest scoring run of the night for either team as the Dawgs scored 13 straight to cut the lead to just 4 points at a score of 55-51 with 14:42 left in the game. A&M would respond with a quick 6 points as a 3-Pointer from Quenton Jackson and and-1 from Coleman would put the Aggies back up by 10. The newly energized Dawgs continued to claw back, however, as Aaron Cook’s first made field goal coming well into the second half was the first of two consecutive successful drives to the basket, trimming the margin to 5 points with 12:04 remaining at a score of 63-58. Following a jumper from Williams, Bridges delivered another beautiful dime to a cutter as Baumann converted underneath before a euro-step finish from Oquendo sent the crowd into a frenzy in cutting the lead to 2 points with 8:12 to play. After a made free-throw from Taylor, Wright dropped in an off-balance floater leaning away from the basket as the Dawgs continued to chip away at the lead, trailing by just 1 point at a score of 67-66 with an even 7 minutes of action yet to play. Failing to take the lead over the next three and a half minutes, the Bulldogs saw the Aggie lead grow to 6 points after a dunk and free-throw from Coleman and jumper from Williams put A&M ahead 75-69 with 3:38 to go. Etter would then find an open Bridges for a bucket down low before the big man delivered a clutch trip to the free-throw line, sinking both ends of a 1-and-1 to bring the Dawgs back within 2 with just over a minute remaining in the contest. After Coleman split a pair of free-throws at the charity stripe, the Dawgs gained possession down by 3 with a chance to tie the game for the first time. The ball was swung to Baumann who pump-faked to let his defender fly past before sinking a game-tying bomb from beyond the arc with 38 seconds left. On the ensuing possession, the Aggies took advantage of a mismatch in favor of their star big man as Coleman drew a foul on the undersized Etter before drilling a pair of free-throws to put the Aggies back on top with 14 seconds to play. Out of a timeout, Tom Crean drew up a play to let Oquendo attack the basket, which he did flawlessly, exploding around a screen and getting to the cup to convert his third and-1 play of the night, giving the Bulldogs their first lead of the game with 5.5 seconds on the clock.
Following the pair of remarkable plays from Georgia’s Baumann and Oquendo, it was A&M’s turn to create a highlight. The Aggies inbounded to Williams, who sprinted up the court before drilling a deep, contested 3-Pointer to stun the Georgia faithful and put the Aggies back up by 1 with 1.2 seconds on the clock. Inbounding underneath their own basket, the Dawgs were still able to get a good last-second look, but after catching the baseball-style inbounds pass, Baumann was guarded too tightly to release the attempt normally, and the shot fell well short as Texas A&M held on for the 81-79 victory.
All things considered, Tuesday night was a definitive step in the right direction for the Dawgs as the squad got back on track after their 17 point loss to Gardner-Webb. Aside from Jaxon Etter, no player that played a substantial role for the Bulldogs on Tuesday had regularly played significant minutes in a power 5 conference game, which speaks volumes to the speed with which this group is adapting to elevated levels of competition. But make no mistake, no one in the Georgia locker room believes in moral victories. What they do believe is that this Bulldog team is much better than what their record may suggest and that these close losses will soon turn into wins as they continue to learn to put a complete game together, starting and finishing strong.
The loss on Tuesday in their first SEC action brings the Dawgs to 5-9 on the season as they prepare for only their second true road game of the season against the Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday in Rupp Arena.