Djurisic boosts Bulldogs at SEC tourney

NEW ORLEANS — There were a number of reasons Georgia dispatched Mississippi State in such a dominating fashion Thursday night at the SEC tournament. Nemanja Djurisic was a big one.

The 6-foot-8, 230-pound freshman from Montenegro became the Bulldogs’ first post player to record a double-double this season when he scored 11 points and pulled down 11 rebounds in the 71-61 opening-round victory. Five of Djurisic’s rebounds came on offense. He added a 3-pointer, an assist and a steal.

“Nemanja is a better player now,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. “He’s more experienced, and he’s just more comfortable. ... I thought his effort on the glass was critical to the game. Obviously he made some real key plays for us.”

Two plays loomed particularly large. Clinging to a three-point lead with barely three minutes to play, Georgia’s Donte’ Williams missed a long jump shot as the shot clock ran down. But Djurisic had fought for inside position on Arnett Moultrie underneath the basket and reached up and grabbed the ball as it careened hard to the right. Djurisic quickly banked it in on a short fadeaway to increase the Bulldogs’ lead to 62-57 with 3:10 to go.

One minute later, Djurisic stole the ball from Dee Bost. He was fouled by Brian Bryant a short time later and made both free throws to stake Georgia to a 63-57 lead with 1:38 remaining.

The sudden surge in rebounding and defense by Djurisic was no fluke.

“Coach has been giving me a hard time throughout the whole season about rebounding and defense,” Djurisic said. “He’s trying to get me to be better at it. I think it just came from him pushing me, and I’ve been pushing myself. I’ve been working hard because it’s a very important thing. As long as we can play like this and compete, I think we’ll keep winning.”

The Bulldogs held Mississippi State’s two leading scorers, Moultrie and Bost, to seven and 10 points, respectively, and a combined 6-of-23 shooting.

They’ll need a similar effort Friday night against Vanderbilt’s lethal inside-out combination. Guard John Jenkins and forward Jeffery Taylor — rank first and second in scoring in the SEC with 20.1 and 17.1 points per game, respectively. Jenkins scored 28 points on 6-of-8 3-point shooting, and Taylor added 13 when the Commodores defeated Georgia 61-52 late last month in Athens. They also beat the Bulldogs 77-66 on Jan. 14 in Nashville.

“We can’t play them the same way we’ve been playing because it hasn’t worked,” Fox said. “We’ve got to do something different.”

Said Djurisic: “We just have to play the way we played [Thursday]. We need to play determined, and we know we know we can win when we make shots and compete hard. I think that’s the key. When we play as a team and communicate well on the floor I think we can beat anyone.”

Thursday’s win was Georgia’s third in the past four games and the second time this season the Bulldogs (15-16) defeated Mississippi State (21-11, 8-8). The latest loss likely will eliminate Mississippi State from NCAA tournament consideration.

Georgia also had an exceptional offensive game Thursday, shooting 51 percent from the field and 36.8 (7-for-19) from 3-point range. Five Bulldogs players scored in double figures: Gerald Robinson had a game-high 23 points, Dustin Ware and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope added 13 each and Williams matched Djurisic with 11.

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