Bulldogs blow nine-point lead, lose to Auburn

Just when it looked as if Georgia was about ready to start polishing its NCAA resume, the Bulldogs instead headed home Saturday with a big, ol’ nasty blemish on it.

On a day when the Bulldogs (16-8, 7-5 SEC) were favored by 11 points, had called for their fans to “red-out” Stegeman Coliseum and were playing a severely shorthanded Auburn team that lost six of its previous seven games, they played their worst home basketball game of the SEC season.

Before a sellout crowd of 10,523, Georgia blew a nine-point lead with five minutes to play to lose to the Tigers 69-68.

“We just didn’t play as determined as we needed to,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. “We weren’t hungry enough. We better get hungry again.”

The loss was only the second at home this season for the Bulldogs, who fall to 11-2 on their home court. They play host to South Carolina here Tuesday.

It was the second road-game shocker Auburn has pulled off amid six losses. The Tigers (12-13, 4-8) also beat LSU 81-77 in Baton Rouge on Feb. 5.

“It appears we are playing better on the road now going back to the Alabama game, Tennessee and now here,” Auburn first-year coach Bruce Pearl said. “We were able to control the tempo, and I thought defensively we had a great plan. It was a great win for our program.”

The game-defining play came on K.T. Harrell’s 3-point shot from the right wing with 55 seconds to play. That came after a Georgia turnover and gave the Tigers a 65-63 lead, their first since going ahead 35-33 four minutes into the second half.

“I overplayed the play,” Gaines said. “I guarded it how we scouted it. He just read my defensive read and got open.”

Said Fox: “We just ran away from the best shooter in the league.”

Harrell’s shot was the fifth consecutive field goal the Tigers made after it fell behind by nine points with 5:17 to play. Harrell finished with a game-high 21 points and K.C. Ross-Miller added 17.

Gaines led the Bulldogs with 18, and Charles Mann added 14. Georgia was 4-of-19 (21 percent) from 3-point range.

The Bulldogs went ahead by nine, 57-48, on Marcus Thornton’s three-point play at the 5:17 mark. Then they preceded to do a whole lot wrong. First, they let Harrell get a rebound off a second missed free throw by Cinmeon Bowers, at the 5:03 mark. Harrell then made both.

Georgia missed four of its last five 3-point tries and turned the ball over twice in the last minute. Still, the Bulldogs had one last desperation chance.

After Auburn committed a length-of-court turnover on the ensuing in-bounds play, Georgia regained possession under its own basket with 1.8 seconds still on the clock.

But Nemanja Djurisic’s 3-point try from the left corner was short. The Bulldogs thought Djurisic may have been fouled on the attempt, but nothing was called.

“It was drawn up for whoever was open,” Gaines said of the last play. “It didn’t matter, we just wanted to get a good shot. And Nemi was open. Whether there was a foul or not, the referees didn’t call it, so obviously they didn’t think it was. But we shouldn’t have put ourselves in that position from the jump.”

Fox was disgusted with the Bulldogs’ effort, particularly on defense. The Tigers shot 56.5 percent in the second half.

“I warned them,” he said of Auburn’s ability to win. “I warned them yesterday. I warned them at shoot-around. We’ve been smelling ourselves too much.”