Georgia’s Jordan Harris back for SMU game

Georgia basketball player Jordan Harris (2) during Stegmania in Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Ga., on Friday, Oct. 11, 2019. (Photo by Tony Walsh)

Credit: Anthony Walsh

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Georgia basketball player Jordan Harris (2) during Stegmania in Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Ga., on Friday, Oct. 11, 2019. (Photo by Tony Walsh)

Credit: Anthony Walsh

Credit: Anthony Walsh

Georgia will be a tad closer to full strength Friday night when it plays host to SMU at Stegeman Coliseum (7 p.m., SEC Network).

The Bulldogs (6-3) have regained the services of senior guard Jordan Harris, who missed the first nine games of the season for a violation of team rules. The 6-foot-5 athlete is not a bit-part player. He has started 25 games in his career and emerged late last season as one of the team’s more dependable players. He averaged 7.8 points last season, including 11.5 points over a 10-game stretch in the middle of the SEC schedule.

But just because he was a significant contributor last year doesn’t mean Harris will be thrust into the Bulldogs’ plans. They’ve been disjointed at times as it is, and they’ll have their hands full with the Mustangs (8-1).

Meanwhile, Georgia hasn’t been running “the same old stuff” this season. Coach Tom Crean is employing a “position-less basketball” strategy to take advantage of freshman Anthony Edwards’ unique offensive abilities and to overcome the Bulldogs’ overall lack of size. Harris has been practicing with his teammates, but it’s not the same as competing alongside them and working in unison to stop a skilled opponent.

“The whole key is that he comes in and just tries to integrate himself into what we're trying to do,” Crean said. “(Harris needs to) be aggressive beyond the attack, really put his mind to defense, to rebounding, to moving without the ball. He’s definitely been improving as a shooter. But, again the lights are on now. You have to ease into it, and you don’t get it all back in one moment, right?”

Georgia can definitely use the help. Edwards has lived up to his lofty reputation and currently leads all Division I freshmen in scoring (19.8 ppg) and steals (2.2 pg). The Bulldogs are averaging 83.1 points per game, which ranks 12th nationally.

It’s in all other aspects of the game Georgia needs help. Areas like rebounding, shooting efficiency and defensive field-goal percentage need to be vastly improved. It doesn’t help that the Bulldogs remain short-handed without 6-foot-9 sophomore Amanze Ngumezi, who remains on indefinite suspension for conduct detrimental to the team.

If nothing else, Harris’ energy and athletic ability should help. That’s really all Crean is asking for.

“He’s one of our better athletes, tremendous burst, first-step explosion,” Crean said. “He's been there. Being able to get on the glass, becoming better at moving without the ball, being ready to shoot the ball. What we don’t need is live-ball turnovers. What we don’t need is trying to make plays that aren’t there. … Hit singles, not home runs.”

All of Georgia’s shortcomings were exposed the last time out, Saturday at Arizona State. The Bulldogs got a career-high 15 points from sophomore Tye Fagan, but only 13 overall and four in the second half from Edwards, who has been battling an ankle sprain, in the way to a 79-59 loss.

“We know we didn’t play our best game,” said first-year graduate transfer Donnell Gresham, who has absorbed most of Harris’ minutes to date. “So we are looking at SMU and trying to see what they do best. They switch on defense and do a lot of cutting out of the corners. We have to be locked in on their keys and try to contain them.”

Harris’ return should help.

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