The sounds emanating from Georgia’s locker room at the Colonial Life Arena following Saturday’s 67-56 win over South Carolina underscore the stark contrast between where the Bulldogs were and where they are now.
As soon as coach Mark Fox stepped inside the door on the lower-level concourse, he was engulfed in a sea of black jerseys who jumped up and down as they chanted something that sounded like “yeet, yeet, yeet!” Moments later, that noise morphed into a rendition of the school fight song, “Glory to Old Georgia.” Only this was an abbreviated, rap-style version. The celebration was finished with some loud, timed applause.
The message: The Bulldogs are starting to get this basketball business down, and they’re thoroughly enjoying it.
“We’re feeling good,” said Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who led the Bulldogs with 19 points. “There’s a lot of confidence going around. We’re helping each other and picking each other up. Everybody’s stepping up every night now.”
Asked about the musical postlude, Caldwell-Pope laughed and grinned wide.
“We’re just re-mixing a little bit,” he said. “We’ve got Houston Kessler providing a little beat box and Kenny Gaines singing for us. We’re just singing and having fun.”
For the moment, there is much to be happy about. The victory was Georgia’s third in a row and fourth in the last five games. The Bulldogs (10-11, 4-4 SEC) head into Saturday’s game at Tennessee in sixth place in the SEC, a considerable climb considering their 0-3 start.
While Caldwell-Pope led the Bulldogs in scoring for the 19th time in 21 games, he got some help this time. Freshmen guards Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines added 11 points apiece and center John Cannon added 8 points as Georgia’s bench out-scored South Carolina’s 34-21. The Bulldogs shot 58 percent for the game and 61 percent in the second half.
The Gamecocks (12-9, 2-6) shot 35 percent from the field and were out-rebounded 30-27. Freshman forward Michael Carrera led the way with 16 points but had only one in the second half.
Asked what was the prevailing feeling for Georgia, Mann said, “Confidence.”
“We see how good we are,” said Mann, who tied his season high with six assists. “We feel real good about finishing games and we’re playing real good on the offensive end and on the defensive end.”
Georgia got a scare when Mann went down hard clutching his right shoulder with less than two minutes remaining in the first half. Mann left the arena with trainer Colby Pohlmann. But he returned in the second half wearing a rubber brace that extended down his right arm. But he returned in the second half and had six points and five assists in 14 minutes.
“It’s all right,” said Mann, a freshman point guard from Alpharetta. “We don’t know what happened yet. We’ve got to reevaluate it when we get back to Athens. I was going to play no matter what. I just had to suck up the pain and play.”
It was the freshman Gaines who proved to be the real difference maker. After not scoring in eight minutes of play in the first half, Georgia coach Mark Fox decided to start Gaines in the second half. The 6-3 guard responded by scoring six points in the first 4:20, including a backboard-rocking, put-back dunk that punctuated an early 8-2 run.
“I just felt like he’s been coming on,” Fox explained. “He has the privilege of practicing against Kentavious every day. Most days that’s not a lot of fun, but it has made him a better basketball player. And today he was able to really help our team. I just had a hunch in my gut it was a good time to let him have a run at it.”
Gaines also had two assists and two rebounds and jarred both ends of a one-and-one with the game on the line with two minutes to play. The Bulldogs outscored South Carolina 8-2 and was 6-of-6 from the foul line in the final 2:03.
Gaines, an accomplished pianist musician, also provided lead vocals in the postgame locker celebration.
“After all our road-win games we sing the fight song and I didn’t really know how the original song went, so we added a little remix to it and they kind of picked me to be the guy to rap it,” Gaines said.
Fox was extremely pleased with the “poised play” he has been seeing from his team of late. But he was somewhat embarrassed to discuss its musical acumen.
“When we go on the road I make them sing the fight song, which has kind of evolved into their own version of the fight song,” he said. “We started off singing; now I guess it’s become rapping. I don’t know, it’s kind of a private thing. But that’s the way we celebrate on the road and it’s kind of neat.”
As is winning on the road.
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