Georgia puts scare in Vandy, falls to 0-3 in SEC

NASHVILLE — Georgia didn’t get a win here at Memorial Gym on Saturday — it rarely does — but it played a game it can build on.

The Bulldogs went toe-to-toe with Vanderbilt in its quirky house of horrors, leading by seven in the first half and harassing the Commodores like a pesky gnat throughout the second half. But they eventually gave way, with Vandy securing the game at the free-throw line like it usually does for a 77-66 victory.

Vanderbilt attempted 20 free throws and made one field goal in the final 4:25 of play. At the start of that stretch, Georgia trailed 62-60. The Commodores attempted 44 free throws to Georgia’s 20. Nemanja Djurisic, John Florveus and Donte’ Williams all fouled out for the Bulldogs.

“There certainly were a lot of positives during the game, but we’re not into moral victories,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. “We competed really hard, and we did do some good things. I mean we had three guys foul out. That might be a record. That’s the hard part.”

The loss was the third in a row for the Bulldogs (9-8, 0-3), who remain winless in SEC play.

It was the sixth consecutive win for Vanderbilt (13-4, 3-0), which entered the season ranked No. 7 in both polls, but currently is unranked.

Georgia returns to Athens for a three-game homestand that begins Wednesday night against Tennessee (8-9, 1-2).

What was encouraging for the Bulldogs was solid play of their young and shorthanded frontcourt. Despite constant foul trouble, Williams scored in double figures for the fifth time this season. He finished with 12 points in 26 minutes. Florveus came off the bench to score five, his most since the second game of the season, and Tim Dixon added four.

“A loss is a loss, but I have to give it to my team. We played hard,” said Williams, who had two thunderous dunks among his five field goals. “The last couple of minutes we let the game slip, but the main thing is learning from the mistakes we made. We’ve still got to improve.”

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope led the Bulldogs with 19 points and four 3-pointers. Gerald Robinson added 15, but was 0-5 from 3-point range. Georgia was 8-of-27 from behind the arc, going 0-for-7 in the final four minutes.

Even amid the missed free throws, the Bulldogs managed to make one last run.

When Dixon rebounded a missed free throw with 1:21 to play, Vanderbilt’s Jeffrey Taylor was called for a foul, then assessed a technical when he protested the call. Dustin Ware made the technical free throws to draw the score to 70-66. Dixon missed the front end of a one-and-one, but Jay Rome got a tie-up on the rebound, and the Bulldogs kept possession.

Robinson managed to get off two open 3-point tries in the following series, the second going in and out with just over a minute to go. Vandy then went 7-of-8 from the line, and Georgia missed three more 3-point shots to decide the game.

“Our defensive numbers weren’t good enough,” said Fox, whose team gave up at least 50 percent shooting (51.2) for the third consecutive SEC game. “We gave up too big of a percentage and 44 free throws. That was the difference right there.”

Williams established a post presence for the Bulldogs early. The 6-foot-9 sophomore from Ellenwood scored eight of Georgia’s first nine points, including a one-handed jam from high above the rim off a missed 3-point attempt by Vincent Williams.

“A lot of things didn’t go our way,” Donte' Williams said. “I wasn’t frustrated. Just disappointed. They’ve got a good team, but everybody in the SEC has a good team. We’ve just got to play harder.”

Said Fox: “We showed that we’ve grown up some, but it still wasn’t good enough.”