Since 1995 - Insightful commentary on the Georgia Bulldogs

Post The magic runs out

Thursday March 20, 2008

I wrote before the game that "Xavier wants to go to the line – don’t help them get there."

Unfortunately, that worst-case scenario unfolded as Xavier came from 11 down in the second half to defeat Georgia 73-61 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Musketeers were in the bonus with over 12 minutes remaining in the game, and they drilled 27 of 33 free throw attempts (81.8%). In contrast, Georgia made it to the line only five times in the game, hitting three shots.

Terrence Woodbury was in double-figures by halftime, and a strong first half from Jeremy Price helped the Dawgs to a 9-point halftime lead. The Dawgs were able to extend that advantage to as many as 11 points in the second half before Xavier made their move. Georgia’s only counter to Xavier’s run was a pair of Billy Humphrey three-pointers as the Musketeers turned an 11-point deficit into an 8-point lead thanks in part to a 22-6 run. Georgia drew to within as few as three points with a minute and a half remaining, but they couldn’t keep Xavier off the free throw stripe down the stretch.

Officiating can be blamed for specific calls, but foul trouble isn’t an exception for Georgia. Think back to the SEC Tournament. Georgia put Kentucky on the line 25 times; Mississippi State attempted 20 free throws. Sundiata Gaines fouled out twice. Things were better, and Georgia’s situation was much more secure, on Sunday when the Dawgs committed only 16 team fouls against Arkansas and put the Hogs on the line just 15 times. Even accounting for the fouls at the end, Xavier had over 20 legitimate trips to the line, mostly in the second half. If you want to blame refs, you also have to recognize undisciplined defense that picks up too many unnecessary fouls in the name of being aggressive.

The Bulldogs shot 47% and outrebounded Xavier, but free throws and nine second half Georgia turnovers made the difference. Georgia’s decisive second half lull was familiar to anyone who watched the team before last weekend, and Xavier was good enough to make the Dawgs pay. The big swing came on a back-to-back pair of Xavier three-pointers inside of 8 minutes remaining that turned a three-point Georgia lead into a three-point Xavier lead in just a few seconds. The Bulldogs never recovered.

Josh Duncan led Xavier with 20 points, but 11 of those came from the stripe. Derrick Brown was the key Musketeer weapon from the floor, hitting 7 of 9 shots and pulling down ten rebounds for the double-double. Though Xavier didn’t shoot particularly well from the floor, they turned it over only seven times – only three of which came in the second half. Xavier played the final minutes as you’d expect from an experienced, well-coached team worthy of a high seed – valuing possession, playing sound defense, and converting opportunities at the line. If they can do that in both halves, they’ll be a tough team to beat.

Woodbury’s 16 points were the team high for Georgia, but Xavier did a good job containing him after an explosive first half. Sundiata Gaines in his final game at Georgia had a solid afternoon with 13 points and 5 assists, but his 5 turnovers and 4 fouls proved costly. Billy Humphrey was Georgia’s main source of big baskets in the second half, and he finished with 12 points. Jeremy Price finished with 10 points, but he did his damage in the first half.

I realize that we should just be happy that the team got to the tournament in the first place, but up by 11 with the end in sight the prospect of advancing became a cruel tease. I can’t deny a sense of disappointment, but this group has accomplished so much more than we thought possible of them just a week ago. And, damn, was the ride fun.

Georgia finishes the season at 17-17 and with the program’s second SEC Tournament title. As with most seasons, there is plenty to build on with the returning talent, but there’s also much to replace with Gaines and Bliss moving on. Billy Humphrey and Terrence Woodbury move into the leadership roles as seniors, and both look poised to accept those roles on the offensive end.

Comments are closed.