MBB: Strong defensive effort leads Georgia past Nighthawks

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MBB: Strong defensive effort leads Georgia past Nighthawks

Georgia point guard Sahvir Wheeler (15) bringing the ball up the court against Auburn during the 2019-20 season.
Georgia point guard Sahvir Wheeler (15) bringing the ball up the court against Auburn during the 2019-20 season.

It was a quick turnaround for the Georgia men’s basketball program as they scheduled Wednesday’s matchup against the University of North Georgia nearly 60 hours before tipoff. Even with short notice, the Bulldogs were able to take care of business easily as they coasted to an 84-62 victory in front of a limited crowd in Stegeman Coliseum. 

Georgia improves to 2-0 on the season but will have to rest tomorrow as they are set to take on Jacksonville on Friday at 7 p.m. at home. Friday’s matchup against the Dolphins will be the third contest in six days for the Bulldogs, which could be taxing on a team that plays a majority of its roster.

According to Georgia head coach Tom Crean, the players have responded well this week in lieu of playing so much in a week.

“I think it’s a great test, it’s not optimal, but in this year, it’s very probable,” he said. “I told the guys we may have a situation where we play three games in three weeks. Let alone three games in one week. I mean, who knows with the way this season. Anything you do is getting you ready for what’s coming, and it just so happened that this is the way it was going to be. Right? We wanted to get another game. We wanted to make sure that we had a game because it’s so important to play against somebody else.”

This 2020-21 Georgia squad features eight newcomers to the roster, although a pair of sophomores led the team in scoring on Wednesday. Forward Toumani Camara led the way with 19 points, seven rebounds and one assist. Guard Sahvir Wheeler had his second consecutive double-double finishing with 17 points, three rebounds and ten assists. Graduate transfer P.J. Horne capped off the night with 13 points and one steal. 

Georgia came out shooting poorly as they missed their first six shots and trailed briefly,  although that didn’t last long as the Bulldogs went on a 13-3 run. Camara was responsible for eight of them lifting Georgia on a pair of 3-pointers. UNG went cold due to Georgia’s defensive pressure that was applied early.

The Bulldogs switched from man to a half-court press midway through the first half, which suffocated the Nighthawks’ backcourt. Georgia was able to take advantage of that and score on a few fastbreaks. After starting out shooting zero percent, Georgia ended the half on a strong note by nailing 60 percent (15 of 25) of their shots down the stretch.

Crean acknowledged that Georgia clearly had the advantage in the size department against UNG.

“Cleary size was there and it was the difference,” he said. “We had some size advantage that we’re not going to have very many nights. But it was more about our activity. We were moving out feet, we very active. We were talking. It was like shell drill defense, right? it was like stuff we work on every day. Guys were always moving. A couple times we over-helped. First half, 15 of their 26 points were from the three-point line, but we weren’t giving up points in the paint. Which was really important. We were changing defenses.”

Camara and Wheeler both had 10 points each in the first half with graduate transfer Andrew Garcia adding nine. The longest-tenured Bulldog on the roster, Tye Fagan, had four alongside transfer Tyron McMillian. Wheeler had four dishes for points while the team collected an impressive 25 rebounds in the first half. Georgia led 46-26 at the half while shooting 48.4 percent. 

“It’s the same mindset if you’re playing the No. 1 team in the country,” Wheeler said. “When we game plan an opponent, we game plan to win the game, no matter who it is. I thought we did a great job of coming out with some energy on the defensive end. I know it took us a bit to get some scoring-wise, but once we got going, we got going. We had way better energy than we did on Sunday night.”

Georgia’s imposing defensive effort carried over into the second half as UNG came out cold in the first few minutes. The Bulldogs forced a couple of turnovers early that led to more points and an extended lead. Midway through the second half, Georgia went into a 2-3 zone looking to confuse UNG and prevent them from getting any second-chance points.

Crean said that yesterday the players watched Alabama’s matchup against Stanford on Monday to improve their defensive game plan. 

“Last night, I like to do this from time to time, but we showed our team Stanford’s defense against Alabama,” he said. “Alabama is a high-throttle offensive team and Stanford in that game came back and got back on defense. They limited them to one shot many times, they rallied, they were connected. My message was to the guys, ‘was maybe Stanford’s older, but you know, they’ve been practicing even less than we have.’.. If we want we to win in this league against teams like Alabama and all these other teams, we’ve got to be incredibly connected defensively.”

Georgia’s got three players (Josh Taylor, Jonathan Ned, McMillian) that all stand at 6-foot-9, which in theory is great, but Crean likes to play what he calls ‘positionless basketball.’ That is troublesome because the team lacks a true big like former Bulldogs Jeremy Price or Derek Ogbeide. The Bulldogs won’t lead the league in blocks or rebounds most nights, so they will have to put up a stout effort defensively. They will also have to play with a lot of speed and versatility.

Crean said it’s important that Georgia shows resilience if things aren’t going their way.

“We’ve got to be a very collective unit defensively, and there were times tonight we showed that,” he said.

Here is the video from Crean’s postgame press conference:

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Currently an intern for BI, and a junior journalism major at the University of Georgia.