ATHENS — Terry Roberts overcame early foul trouble to match his career high with 26 points and Georgia made first-year coach Mike White’s Southeastern Conference debut with the Bulldogs memorable by beating No. 22 Auburn 76-64 on Wednesday night.
Kario Oquendo had 17 points for Georgia (11-3, 1-0), which celebrated its SEC opener after a strong nonconference showing under White, the former Florida coach.
Roberts, the transfer from Bradley, missed much of the first half after picking up two early fouls. The senior guard made 9 of 12 free throws. His 26 points set a season high and matched his career high with Bradley.
“I thought Terry Roberts played fantastic,” White said. “He played with poise; he made good decisions. Considering the defensive prowess of Auburn, I thought Terry really blossomed.”
The Bulldogs are enjoying a dramatic turnaround under White after finishing 6-26 overall and last in the SEC at 1-17 last season, leading to the firing of coach Tom Crean.
“We just beat a ranked opponent,” White said. “Our guys have been through a lot. I want them to feel good about it.”
Auburn (11-3, 1-1 SEC) trailed most of the game despite Johni Broome’s 22 points and 12 rebounds. Allen Flanigan, with 11 points, was the Tigers’ only other scorer in double figures. Jaylin Williams, who was averaging 10.3 points, made only 1 of 9 shots from the field and was held to five points.
“We can’t win if Jaylin Williams goes 1 for 9, we just can’t,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said.
Auburn had similar matchup problems in their other losses this season to Memphis and Southern California.
“Our problem has been going against really good guards,” Pearl said, adding the Tigers “have got to get better point guard play. ... Keeping guards in front of us has become an issue.”
Georgia led 62-53 before Roberts’ jumper stretched the advantage to 11 points. Roberts then stole the ball from Wendell Green Jr. before being fouled and making two free throws, giving the Bulldogs their biggest lead at 66-53.
Georgia took a big lead of 11 points at 21-10 before the Tigers answered with a tying 11-0 run. Green started the run by making two free throws and capped the streak with a layup.
About 2 minutes later, Georgia used a 10-0 run to take a 33-24 lead. Roberts had a layup and 3-pointer to start the run. The Bulldogs led 37-30 at halftime.
Georgia 76, Auburn 64
Broome scored Auburn’s first seven points and also was leading the team with four rebounds when he fell to the court midway through the first half, grabbing his right ankle in pain. He was helped to the Auburn bench, where trainers taped the ankle. The 6-foot-10 sophomore returned to the game late in the half.
The Bulldogs showed good depth in their ability to overcome an early crisis when Roberts, the starting point guard, picked up two fouls in the first five minutes and had to leave the game. Roberts’ replacement, Justin Hill, had two quick turnovers but still Georgia stayed close until Roberts returned late in the half.
White will return to his former school Saturday when the Bulldogs play at Florida.
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Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC