ATHENS – The Georgia Bulldogs are finally back in the postseason win column.

Georgia secured the “W” Tuesday night with a 78-76 win over Xavier in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament. The Bulldogs (18-16) will find out Wednesday if they’ll face Wake Forest or Appalachian State in the second round, which will be played either Saturday or Sunday.

If the Demon Deacons win, Georgia will play them in Winston-Salem on Saturday. Should the Mountaineers win, there will be at least one more home game for the Bulldogs at Stegeman Coliseum.

Georgia’s last postseason win was on March 3, 2016, when it beat Belmont 93-84 in the NIT. The Bulldogs lost in the second round to Saint Mary’s in Moraga, Calif., to close the season with a 20-14 record.

Georgia’s just thrilled to have another game, especially when it almost didn’t.

“I thought we played the first 30 minutes as well as we have all year,” Georgia coach Mike White said. “... We’ve got another opportunity. Maybe we can put 40 together at that level.”

It was those last 10 that nearly did the Bulldogs in. Up 23 points with 13:42 to play, Georgia saw the Musketeers (16-17) put together a 15-4 run over the final 6:03 to get within two points with the ball with a chance to win or go ahead in the minutes.

As it unfolded Georgia’s Russel Tchewa, a 7-foot, 275-pound graduate transfer, blocked the Musketeers’ last shot to preserve the victory. Initially was counted as a Xavier basket off goaltending. That call was overruled after an extended video review, which left Xavier with the ball with 1.9 seconds remaining.

Tchewa actually blocked the last shot, too, but Desmond Claude’s final attempt was ruled to have been taken after the final buzzer.

Xavier coach Sean Miller thought there was more to it than that.

“I think Desmond [Claude] may have gotten fouled on the play,” Miller said. “It might have been after the time expired but there’s no doubt that the foul happened. It’s just a matter of whether or not the time had expired. If it did, they review everything in college basketball just about everything. I’m just surprised that the officials ran off as fast as they could when that happened. It would have been great for them to determine it on a review.”

Georgia center Russel Tchewa (54) blocks the final shot by Xavier guard Desmond Claude (1) as time expires during Georgia’s 78-76 win in the first round of the NCAA’s NIT at Stegeman Coliseum, Tuesday, March 19, 2024, in Athens, Ga. (Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz

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Credit: Jason Getz

Tchewa, a graduate transfer from South Florida, finished with six points, six rebounds and four assists. Freshman Silas Demary Jr. led the Bulldogs with 16 points and four assists, RJ Melendez added 14 with three huge steals, Noah Thomasson added 12 and Justin Hill finished with 10.

“Just get stops,” Demary said of the message in Georgia’s last huddle. “If we get stops, we can win the game. Xavier went on one heck of a run, but can take a punch and, honestly, we just wanted to stay together.”

All Georgia had to do was make one or two free throws down the stretch to avoid the drama. Alas, Hill, Thomasson and Demary all missed the front ends of one-and-ones to keep Xavier in the game. The Bulldogs finished 8-for-14 from the line. Demary scored Georgia’s only two points in the final 4:32 of play on a driving layup. That came with 25.4 seconds remaining and proved to be the winning points.

Melendez, a 6-7 junior and first-year transfer from Illinois, had four steals, including two in the last 50 seconds.

“It means a lot for the team, not just for me,” said Melendez, who came in averaging 9.8 points per game. “Everybody’s in this together. It’s nice to just keep playing with my guys and keep practicing. It’s amazing just to be in the postseason and be able to keep doing what I love.”

Melendez had the added challenge of trying to defend Xavier’s Claude down the stretch. Claude scored 30 on 11-of-18 shooting, including 5-of-6 from beyond the arc and 4-of-5 in the second half. However, Melendez got the last laugh with two huge steals off him in the final 50 seconds, , the last one with 11 seconds to go.

Xavier’s leading scorer Quincy Olivari, who is from Atlanta, scored 11 on 3-of-12 shooting. He came in averaging 19.

The Bulldogs will turn their full attention to the next game, though they’ll do so not knowing their opponent yet. Georgia defeated Wake Forest 80-77 in Athens in the second game of the season, though the Demon Deacons (20-13) were missing some key players that night. Appalachian State is 27-6 record.

“You can tell (Wake coach Steve) Forbes I’m cheering for App State so we can get a home game,” White quipped. “I should watch what I say because App’s really good and Wake’s really good, too. We’re just really happy to be still involved. We’ll watch (their game) closely. We’re more familiar with Wake having played them, but we’ll learn more about App State tomorrow throughout the day, then more tomorrow night.”