Pretty much every time he touched the basketball – and certainly every time he went to the foul line, which was a lot -- Georgia’s Anthony Edwards heard chants of “overrated, overrated!” from the capacity crowd at Auburn Arena on Saturday. It was hard to argue with them, on this day anyway.
Edwards was not good. In his defense, neither were the Bulldogs as they came unglued against No. 5-ranked and still undefeated Auburn, and lost 82-60.
The Tigers improve to 15-0 overall and 3-0 in the SEC while Georgia falls to 10-5 and 0-2 in league play.
Edwards, who signed with Georgia as the nation’s consensus No. 2-rated recruit and is expected to a “one-and-done” NBA prospect, came in known for his poise at the foul line, among other places on the court. Yet the 6-foot-5 guard missed seven of his first nine free throws Saturday. He also missed his first six 3-point attempts and seven of his first nine field-goal attempts overall as Georgia let a nice early lead disintegrate into a blowout.
“That doesn’t really bother me,” Edwards said of the crowd’s chants. “I was frustrated that I couldn’t make free throws. Other than that, I don’t really care about stuff like that.”
Edwards finally made his first 3-pointer with 9:16 remaining in the game, which drew sarcastic applause. Georgia was trailing by 22 before the ball went through the hoop. The freshman came in averaging 18.5 points and finished with 18, but all but three of his points came with the Bulldogs woefully behind.
“I was just missing them; there’s not much I can say about it,” Edwards said all his errant attempts. “I just couldn’t make them.”
Edwards wasn’t alone in his struggle. The Bulldogs incredibly went to the free-throw line 33 times. They made only 17 of them. That’s 51.5 percent.
Auburn shot better from the field (53.2 percent).
Worse, the Bulldogs missed a lot of layups and open shots as well. The problem was they let that affect them in other areas, chiefly defense and rebounding.
Georgia coach Tom Crean included Edwards in that group.
“... When our shots aren’t going, like layups and our free throws aren’t going, which is an anomaly for us, we let it affect our defense. We let it affect our rebounding big time. It’s the difference in going against a highly mature Final Four team that plays with tremendous spirit and energy versus a team that’s got to find some collective leadership.”
The Tigers weren’t quite as lethal from long range as they were a year ago when they made a Final Four run, but they made enough, nine out of 24 attempts. The senior-laden Tigers were led by senior guard Samir Doughty with 17 points, including two 3s, and Anfernee McElmore and Allen Flanigan added 17 apiece. McElmore, a senior from Worth County, improved to 5-0 against his state’s university.
It was Flanigan who was assigned to guard Edwards.
“It meant a lot to be able to go out there and guard him and show what I could do,” said Flanigan, a 6-5 freshman from Little Rock, Ark. “I just tried to stay on his right hand and make him go to the left.”
Freshman Sahvir Wheeler got his first career start for the Bulldogs. The Houston native got the nod over senior Tyree Crump. Wheeler had been logging the majority of minutes at the lead-guard position previously, he just wasn’t starting the games.
Georgia got off to an ideal start, scoring the game’s first six points and missing out on having an even bigger lead with two empty possessions. But the Bulldogs kept the pressure on and actually built themselves a 14-6 lead by the 12:45 mark.
It was all Auburn after that. First Wheeler drew his second foul at the 13:26 mark – the first one a short while earlier was a joke – and went to the bench. Then the Bulldogs started turning the ball over. They had eight in the first half.
Couple that with missed shots – Georgia was 8-for-25 – and the result was a lot of empty possessions. The Bulldogs went the last 6:29 of the first half without making a field goal, while Auburn finished the first half on a 17-5 run.
Auburn had a lot of empty possessions early on. But as has been the their trademark under coach Bruce Pearl, the Tigers started landing their long 3s. They were 6-of-14 from behind the arc to Georgia’s 2-for-7, and that was essentially the difference in the half. Auburn went to the locker room leading 35-24.
Auburn picked up where it left off in the second half. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, so did they.
Georgia missed its first four shots and its first three free throws and committed two turnovers to boot. Simultaneously, Auburn made three of its first four shots and began to run away from the Bulldogs.
Edwards appeared to start pressing, and Georgia began to succumb to the environment, which was incredibly robust considering the game was being played six hours earlier than scheduled because of severe weather sweeping through the area.
Crean called a timeout with Georgia trailing 46-27 with 16:29 to play. The lead would only grow from there.
After playing three consecutive top-14 opponents -- and winning one of those at Memphis -- the Bulldogs will come back home to face Tennessee (10-5, 2-1 SEC). They have plenty to work on between now and then.
“I’m definitely going to get in the gym and work on my free throws,” said Edwards, with a slight grin. “I mean, it’s the game of basketball; it happens to a lot of players. I don’t fault myself for the loss, but (making) free throws is something I’ve got to do.”