The Georgia Bulldogs defeated the Ole Miss Rebels 78-74 on Saturday afternoon for their first conference win of the season and also their first road win. This snapped a four-game losing streak for Georgia, who had been dominated in back-to-back contests against Arkansas and Auburn.
After a 0-4 start in conference play, this seemed like a must-win game for the Bulldogs. In all four losses Georgia hung around in the first half before losing focus and allowing bigger runs by opponents to overwhelm them. Today, the energy and focus were different and improved.
“These guys were ready to go, they were locked in, they warmed up well and they stuck together even when [Ole Miss] made the runs,” said Georgia head coach Tom Crean. “We did a lot of adjusting today… and they responded to that, and they were completely locked into the game plan and to winning the game, and I’m proud of them.”
The Bulldogs built up a 15-point second half lead at one point and seemed to be well on their way to victory. A 9-0 Ole Miss scoring run with less than two minutes to go changed that situation into Georgia shooting crucial free-throws with the game on the line. Sahvir Wheeler made four clutch free-throws to ice the game away. He finished with 18 points and a game-high nine assists.
Tye Fagan, though, was the player of the game for the Bulldogs on Saturday. Fagan led the team in scoring with 19 points and shot a perfect 9 of 9 from the field, including one 3-pointer. Fagan was benched in Georgia’s last game against Auburn, but returned to the starting lineup against Ole Miss, where he made the most of the opportunity.
“It’s the fact that we were 0-4 in conference play, that’s the biggest motivation you need,” said Fagan. “If you claim to be a winner, losing games should motivate you more than anything. Whether it’s starting, not starting, none of that really matters but winning, so losing games is what motivated me.”
Georgia shot a season high 60% (9-15) from behind the 3-point line, and also held the Rebels to 31.8% from long distance, who only made 1 of their 13 first half attempts. After a shaky performance from the free-throw line on Wednesday night, Georgia redeemed itself by making 15-of-17 from the charity stripe on Saturday.
After the game, players gave coach Crean a Gatorade bath in the locker room causing him to unusually wear a hat in his postgame press conference. This was not because it was a milestone win for either Crean or the Georgia Basketball program, but more as a way of getting back to normal following some tough losses.
“We just kept reminding each other the last few days, we just have to get back to having fun,” said Fagan. “Dumping the water and the Gatorade wasn’t necessarily about the win, it was just the fact that we have to get back to having fun and enjoying the game the way we were the first seven games.”
Devontae Shuler had a game-high 24 points and team-high eight assists for the Rebels. Shuler, a senior guard, connected on some big 3-pointers that consistently helped Ole Miss trim the Bulldogs’ lead in the second half.
Georgia improves to 8-4 (1-4) on the season and will return to Stegeman Coliseum on Wednesday night, where they will face the Kentucky Wildcats. Kentucky is not quite the normal force they usually are, as they have had to deal with inconsistencies on an inexperienced roster as well this season. Ole Miss drops to 6-6 (1-4) and will play its rival, Mississippi State on Tuesday.