ATHENS – Not ready for prime time. Not yet.

That’s the only conclusion to be made about the Georgia Bulldogs, who for the second time this season blew a double-figure lead at home over a ranked opponent and let the visitors slip out of Stegeman Coliseum with a victory.

Last time it was No. 5 Tennessee. This time it was No. 24 Alabama, which returned to Tuscaloosa an 85-76 victor.

The similarities were uncanny. Basically, Alabama made every good play and Georgia every bad one in the final six minutes of the game. In that span, the Bulldogs went from leading by seven to losing by nine.

“As you’re building, you’ve got to learn how to win. Right?” Georgia coach Mike White said. “Those two games had some similarities in that you’re playing with a lead in an electric environment with a lot of emotion in the building. Then, all of the sudden they hit some tough shots.”

Instead of a coveted Quad 1 win, the Bulldogs (14-7, 4-4 SEC) left bitterly disappointed with the league’s hottest team showing up here on Saturday in South Carolina (18-3, 6-2). After losing to Florida 102-98 last Saturday, Georgia will have to pull off an upset to avoid losing a third game in a row.

Alabama (15-6, 7-1) maintains its stranglehold on first place in SEC with its third straight win. The Crimson Tide left Athens feeling the victory was well-earned.

“This place did not sound like this, look like this, anything, until this year,” coach Nate Oats said. “Georgia’s a much-improved program. They probably should’ve beat Tennessee here, they beat South Carolina, they’re a good team that’s going to win a lot of games.”

Credit the Crimson Tide for not shrinking away after falling behind by 15 points in the game’s first eight minutes and trailing 41-27 at halftime. Led by guard Mark Sears, Alabama continually chipped away at the Bulldogs’ lead until they had fully run it down with 5:34 left in the game.

At that point, Rylan Griffen’s 3-pointer tied the score at 64. After a Georgia miss, Grant Nelson followed with a putback to give Alabama a lead it would never relinquish.

Georgia guard RJ Melendez (15) grabs a rebound next to Georgia forward Jalen DeLoach (23) during the first half against Alabama at Stegemen Coliseum, Wednesday, January 31, 2024, in Athens, Ga. Alabama won against Georgia 85-76. (Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz

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Credit: Jason Getz

Nelson, a 6-foot-11 transfer from North Dakota State, would prove particularly troublesome down the stretch. A pair of 3-pointers in a 20-second stretch inside the final 90 seconds would assure Georgia would not come back.

“Every loss is always heartbreaking, but the way we did it today just hurts,” said Georgia’s Noah Thomasson, who led the Bulldogs with 15 points but scored only two after halftime. “When you see how we played in the first half, you know we just need to play complete 40-minute games to get these types of wins.”

Sears, the reigning player of the week in the SEC, led all scorers with 23 points, 19 of them coming in the second half. Nelson finished with 20 and Griffen had 12.

Turnovers, more than anything else, did in the Bulldogs. They had a season-high 19 four days after committing just nine on the road at Florida.

“Nineteen turnovers at home is just not putting yourself in a good position,” White sighed.

Georgia guard Justin Hill (11) attempts a shot against Alabama forward Grant Nelson (2) during the second half at Stegemen Coliseum, Wednesday, January 31, 2024, in Athens, Ga. (Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz

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Credit: Jason Getz

Georgia was strong virtually everywhere else, outrebounding the Tide 39-26 and shooting 41% from 3-point range. However, the Bulldogs were just 0-for-4 from behind the arc in the second half. They were 15-of-18 from the foul line.

“We got to get better at executing down the stretch,” freshman Silas Demary Jr. said. “We turned the ball over a lot. We’ve just got to take better care of the ball and finish these games.”

The Bulldogs didn’t make excuses, but they could have. Demary played almost 29 minutes after not practicing even a single minute since Saturday due to a virus that has been sweeping its way through the team. He finished with 10 points but had four turnovers.

Likewise, senior guard Justin Hill was noticeably hobbled from an ankle injury suffered in overtime against Florida. He managed to play 21 minutes but scored only five points.

“We’ve got to get healthy,” Whitel said. “We’ve got to hydrate. We’ve got to sleep. Four or five of these guys have got to get rest. It’ll be more of a mental approach tomorrow, and then Friday we’ll get after it a little bit, but it’ll be abbreviated. Here we go again with a 1 p.m. tip on Saturday. We’re going to need every ounce of energy we can get to guard those guys and to generate some offense.”

Georgia’s first half was the stuff of fantasy. Seeking to get out front of the nation’s highest-flying offensive team, the Bulldogs used an early 13-0 run to leap ahead 17-2 just eight minutes in.

Blue Cain’s deep 3-pointer from left of the key capped the run.

Alabama twice put together spurts to whittle down Georgia’s lead to single digits. But a step-back jumper by Thomasson with 38 seconds remaining in the opening half allowed the Bulldogs to go into the locker room leading 41-27. Thomasson led all scorers with 13 points on 3-of-4 shooting from behind the arc and the Bulldogs were 7-of-13 (53.8%) on their 3-point range. Conversely, the Crimson Tide was 2-for-11 (18.2%).

But there remained a second half to be played and that one was all Alabama. They outscored Georgia 58-35 in the second 20.

“They just kept fighting,” Thomasson said. “Credit to them. They’re a good team that’s won a lot. They just stayed in the game in the second half and made some big-time shots in the second half. So, credit to them.”

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