ST. LOUIS, Mo. – Clinging to a one-point lead with a minute remaining in regulation, the Georgia Bulldogs men’s basketball team held off Missouri 62-60 in the 2018 SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament Thursday afternoon at Scottrade Center.
The win by the No. 12-seed Bulldogs (18-14) over the No. 5-seed Tigers (20-12) sends Georgia to the quarterfinals matchup against No. 4-seed Kentucky.
“We knew it would be a road game, so we tried to treat it that way,” Georgia head coach Mark Fox said. “And with (Michael) Porter Jr., we said if he plays the small forward, we’ll play him like the best small forward in the league. If he plays the four, then we’ll treat him like one of the best power forwards in the league. We didn’t know where they would play him on the floor. Obviously, we had a slow start to the game, and then our defense really buckled down there the last 15 minutes of the first half and gave us a chance to play them in front.”
Recording his 14th double-double of the season, senior forward Yante Maten accumulated 21 points and 10 rebounds, while adding two blocks and a steal. Joining the offensive output was freshman guard Teshaun Hightower with a career-tying mark of 13 points and a career-high seven rebounds.
“We had a lead, and we were trying to maintain it,” Maten said. “We knew that they were going to hit a run, and we just made sure we came out and tried to stop them defensively. We’re a tremendous team, and I don’t think we’ve shown our best yet. We’re just trying to keep on fighting and get better every day.”
A day after jumping out to a 10-0 lead to start the SEC Tournament, the Bulldogs found themselves in a 10-0 hole against Missouri. It wasn’t until the 14:04 mark that Georgia got on the board with a 3-pointer from Maten to make it 10-3.
Shortly after, the Georgia defense intensified, completely flipping the status of the half. The Bulldogs held the Tigers scoreless for just over eight minutes, while Missouri went 0-for-14 from the field. In that span, Georgia rallied off 16 unanswered points to take a seven-point lead, 19-12, at the 6:57 mark.
The sequence started with a block by freshman Nicolas Claxton on Tigers’ freshman Michael Porter Jr., which set up a Rayshaun Hammonds runner. The other 14 points in the run all came from Hightower and Maten including a 3-pointer by each.
From that point until the halftime horn, both teams went back-and-forth with Georgia delivering the last blow – a three from Hightower with 35 seconds left for the 33-24 Bulldog lead. Maten and Hightower led all scorers with 14 and 11 points, respectively, while also registering the most rebounds with five apiece.
Off a crossover move to open the second half, William Jackson II stepped into a three for Georgia’s largest lead of the game by either team at 12 points. The double-digit margin was short-lived after Missouri strung together a 9-1 run to pull within four points at 37-33. Consecutive threes from the Tigers knotted the game at 39-all, but the Bulldogs stretched it back out to eight with a Jackson reverse layup and threes from Tyree Crump and Claxton.
Deeper into the second half, the Tigers cut their deficit to 57-53 with 5:43 to play in regulation. In Georgia’s next possession, Maten grabbed an offensive rebound – eclipsing double-digit boards – and put it back up for his 19th point of the game. Missouri pulled within two; the closest margin since the first half, before Maten pushed it back to four at 61-57 with 3:30 to play.
Key rebounding and defense in the final minute solidified the Georgia win after Missouri drained the three to make it 61-60. With 17 seconds left, the Tigers missed a three and a second effort, before Hammonds corralled a crucial rebound and was fouled. The freshman forward made the first free throw, but hit iron on the second. However, Claxton muscled the offensive rebound from the miss and drew a foul. Although Claxton’s ensuing shots from the stripe missed, it shaved a few seconds off the clock and the Tigers’ last attempt was off the mark.
The Bulldogs and Wildcats are slotted to play Friday at approximately 3:15 ET and will be aired on ESPN.