The Bulldogs trailed by as many as 13 points in the second half, but mounted a furious rally to get within two points. J.J. Frazier’s 3-pointer with 5:41 to play made the score 59-57. But Georgia never got closer, and Auburn secured the game from the free-throw line. The Tigers made 7 of 9 free throws over the final 2:55.
“They started out of the gate too strong, and we were just fighting uphill throughout the whole game,” said sophomore Charles Mann, who led the Bulldogs with 18 points. “We didn’t play very well in the beginning of the first half.”
Fouls played a big part in the game. Georgia’s Brandon Morris, Kenny Gaines and Nemanja Djurisic each had four. Auburn made 27 of their 34 free throws (79.4 percent), while the Bulldogs made 19 of 28 (67.9 percent).
“The difference ended up being the free-throw line,” Fox said. “We sent them there way too much, and they shot their free throws well. We didn’t shoot ours as well, and we didn’t get there as much.”
Chris Denson, a senior from Columbus, scored 18 points to lead five Auburn scorers in double figures. Djurisic scored 11 for Georgia, with 10 coming in the second half.
The loss came despite the return of Gaines. The sophomore shooting guard and second-leading scorer missed the previous two games with a bruised thigh. Gaines scored only nine points, but his presence seemed to invigorate the Bulldogs’ offense, which had scored only 54 points in each of the previous two games.
“We tried to come out and fight,” Gaines said. “We did a better job in the second half, but we should have done it in the first half.”
Fox definitely was thinking outside the box with his starting lineup. He gave the nod to redshirt freshman Houston Kessler over senior Donte’ Williams at one of the two post positions. Not only had Kessler never started in his career, but he had never scored a point. His stats entering Saturday’s game: seven games played, 2.1 minutes per game, 0-for-2 shooting, 4 rebounds.
Kessler made a 3-pointer from the top of the key 49 seconds into the game and left at the 17:08 mark of the first half. He never played again.
“I wasn’t pleased with our upperclassmen’s response the other day,” Fox said of starting Kessler. “So I put Houston in there, and he did a nice job while he was in there.”
Because of foul trouble, Georgia played much of the second half with Frazier, a 5-foot-9 freshman, playing the point and Gaines and Mann on the wings. Frazier played 17 minutes and made two 3-pointers down the stretch.
The Bulldogs have five days to regroup. They don’t play again until Thursday night, when LSU comes to Athens.
“We’ll be fine,” Mann said. “We’ll bounce back. We faced adversity earlier in the season, so we’ll be fine. We’ll find a way to bounce back.”