Anthony Edwards might be the No. 1 pick in the next NBA draft. Right now, he’s the best player on a Georgia team that isn’t in the NCAA tournament picture. The Bulldogs can change that with more games like this from Edwards.
Edwards carried Georgia to a 63-48 victory over Texas A&M on Saturday at Stegeman Coliseum. He scored 29 points, but you already knew he could score. Edwards also had 15 rebounds and gave the Aggies fits with his defense. The Bulldogs need more of that if they want to make something of his (presumably) one season in Athens.
“I don’t study (the draft) a lot, but based on the performance I saw today I thought he was incredible,” Aggies coach Buzz Williams said. “Obviously I’ve studied his game and his numbers. But I thought his impact on winning may have been as big as it’s been all year.”
It had been a while since that happened. Edwards poured in 26 points in a Jan. 15 victory against Tennessee, Georgia’s best at home this season. He’d been scoring since then, but not efficiently. The Bulldogs lost four in a row.
The defeat at Missouri on Wednesday was a gut punch. The Bulldogs led that game by 20 with less than 14 minutes to go. They led Texas A&M by 12 points with 14 to play. But there was never any sense that the Bulldogs would blow this one because Edwards was doing it all.
He scored 20 of his 29 points after halftime. Edwards totaled 15 rebounds. He helped the Bulldogs clamp down on Texas A&M, which they should do to a team that struggles to score.
It was Edwards’ best game since arriving in Athens.
“Thus far,” Georgia coach Tom Crean said. “But as I said to him, it’s all got to turn up now because we are in February.”
The Bulldogs have a lot of work to do to make the NCAA tournament. Their one non-conference win of note is at Memphis, which didn’t have its best player. The home loss to Ole Miss was bad. The meltdown at Missouri was disheartening.
But this bounce-back game was encouraging. The Aggies aren’t good, but Williams knows what he’s doing. He’s picking up the pieces at A&M after good runs as Crean’s successor at Marquette and then at Virginia Tech. The Aggies own road victories against Vanderbilt, Missouri and Tennessee.
Edwards would not allow Georgia to be their latest upset victim. He played nearly every second of the game and scored almost half of Georgia’s points. Texas A&M missed 40 shots, and Edwards chased down 13 of them.
It was an impressive all-around game for Edwards. He was reluctant to say it was his best. His focus was on praising teammate Sahvir Wheeler.
“I guess you can say that, but I’m thankful for the best point guard in the country,” Edwards said. “He finds me whenever I’m open.”
Edwards can be better (he’s only 18 years old, after all). The jump from Holy Spirit Prep to the SEC was a big one. Edwards’ feel for the game lags his physical talents. It can have a cumulative effect on the Bulldogs when he bogs down.
That happened in the first half against Texas A&M. Edwards stood behind the 3-point line and fired away. Five of his eight shots in the first half were from that range, and he made one. At halftime Georgia led 24-21 with nine field goals and 14 turnovers.
The visitors couldn’t handle Edwards when he decided to attack the rim. He did that more often after halftime. The Aggies packed the lane, but Edwards still found space to maneuver. He got out in transition for scores, too.
There was a short stretch of the second half when Edwards started settling for 3-pointers again. He missed a quick, step-back attempt with Georgia leading by nine points and nine minutes to go. But Aggies guard Jay Jay Chandler barely got the ball past half court before Edwards stripped it and then powered through Chandler for a layup and foul.
The Bulldogs had a few more hiccups from there. That’s one trait of a young team. But they finished the victory. That’s a sign of growth after what happened at Missouri.
“I feel like we can compete with anybody,” Edwards said.
I’m intrigued to see what Crean can do with the Bulldogs the rest of the way. They go to Florida on Wednesday. The Gators are one of a handful of SEC teams trying to squeeze into the NCAA tournament field. Another one, Alabama, comes to Stegman next weekend.
Win both of those games, and the Bulldogs can climb on the NCAA bubble. The closing schedule provides plenty more chances for quality victories. It won’t be easy to win enough of them to make the tourney. They can do it when Edwards plays like he did against the Aggies.
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