Athens, Ga. – It was a tale of two halves as the Georgia men’s basketball team finished strong to outlast Florida A&M 85-75 on Sunday afternoon.
The Bulldogs prevailed in the 2020-21 season opener because of a great effort by a couple of older players and a dominating performance on the glass. Stony Brook graduate transfer Andrew Garcia led the team with 22 points, four rebounds and shot 10 of 11 from the free-throw line. Both Tye Fagan (21 pts, 10 reb) and Sahvir Wheeler (12 pts, 12 assists) had double-doubles.
Georgia third-year head coach Tom Crean felt the performance was a lot better than what he expected.
“We had no idea what to expect, and I know that sounds cliché, but it just totally is,” said Crean in his postgame press conference. “We hadn’t played a game against somebody else since March 10. That’s why Wednesday night was so important, with no exhibitions or scrimmages, but we didn’t get it. I’m proud of the way they came out and started the game.”
The Bulldogs jumped out quickly to a 13-2 lead, although the Rattlers responded quickly going on a 7-3 run of their own. Both teams then traded blows down the stretch before Georgia went cold for almost five minutes. With just under 12 minutes to go in the first half, the Bulldogs were a mere 1 of 11 from beyond the arc. That didn’t change much throughout the rest of the game, but Georgia did shoot more efficiently in the second half as a team.
“We want to be a quick-starting team – that was a very quick start for us,” said Crean. “We were locked in. We had a great walkthrough this morning. They were lively and energetic and ready to play against somebody else, but then reality sets in, and you are actually playing against someone else. In practice, you can stop things, you can do X amount of possessions and then change over, and we had to keep going and these guys learned.”
Georgia shot a disappointing 39 percent (12 of 31) in the first half but took care of business in the final 20 minutes by shooting 58 percent (18 of 31). As a whole, the Bulldogs ended the game shooting 48.4 percent from the field. Georgia also had a great effort on the glass as they out-rebounded Florida A&m 36-29.
Garcia attributed Georgia’s first-half woes to just playing nervous coming out of the gate.
“I feel like the first half we just wanted to get all of our jitters out,” Garcia said. “We wanted to stay true of being strong and getting the ball into the post. And using our strength and athleticism down low. We kind of used Tye’s ability to cut without the basketball. He’s pretty good at that kind of utilizing one of their weaknesses of looking at the ball. He (Coach Crean) wants us to keep moving the ball and to get better shots. That was the main emphasis for the second half.”
“We came out in the first half, and we rushed a few shots and passed up a few good shots,” Fagan said. “Second half we tried to take better shots and be more efficient. I was just trying to get out and run, and Sahvir was able to find me.”
In the final two minutes of the first half, Garcia had seven points, including a buzzer-beater. Fagan and Garcia then combined for 21 of 23 points to open up the second half, with one basket by sophomore Toumani Camara. In the final ten minutes, the duo scored a few more times but that’s when Wheeler had his final few assists to tally a new career-high of 12.
Crean acknowledged that Wheeler’s ceiling is very high.
“He really wants to be a leader,” Crean said. “He really wants to be a floor general.”
Despite the fast start and sloppy offensive transition in the rest of the first period, Crean was impressed but knows there’s room for improvement.
“We were just very blessed to get to play today following Wednesday’s cancellation,” Crean said. “..I wasn’t concerned about the offense because I knew if we made stops we could get out and run. But it’s got to get faster.”
Here’s the video from Tom Crean’s presser: