Looking for a signature victory to hang their hoops on, the Georgia Bulldogs finally got one Sunday night against Notre Dame.
Facing coach Mike Brey’s Fighting Irish in the Holiday Hoopsgiving tournament at State Farm Arena, the Bulldogs (8-3) withstood an early 3-point shooting barrage from the Fighting Irish with perfect offensive performances from Braelen Bridges and Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe to pull away in the second half on the way to a 77-62 victory.
Georgia 77, Notre Dame 62
Bridges (9-for-9) and Moncrieffe (6-6) did not miss a shot from the field, most of those coming during a second-half onslaught when Georgia’s athleticism and depth overwhelmed a Notre Dame team that typically plays only seven or eight players a game.
“When we’re both playing like that and we’re locked in and the ball’s going in, it’s hard to beat us,” said Bridges, a fifth-year senior from Atlanta. “You don’t know which one of us to guard, which one to double-team.”
“We were getting the ball in good spots and taking good shots like we work on every day,” Moncrieffe said. “We just took efficient shots, and it was our night. Next time, it could be somebody else.”
As a team, the Bulldogs went 12 of 24 from the floor after halftime and held the sharpshooting Irish to 33% to pull away. Georgia went to the foul line 22 times (to Notre Dame’s six) and made 19 of those as the Bulldogs cut to the basket and worked the ball inside out with great effect.
The well-sized Irish had no answer for the 6-foot-10 Bridges’ jump hook or the 6-8 Moncrieffe’s athleticism getting through the lane to the basket. That trumped Notre Dame’s outside shooting, which saw it make 7-of-13 3-point attempts in the first half but a slightly less effective 4-for-10 in the second.
“I was worried that this could happen and we would get beat up by their physicality,” said Brey, who led the Irish to 24 wins last season. “Somebody other than Nate Laszewski needs to step up and stick his chest in there for us. Until we learn that, we’re going to lose more games.”
Laszewski led the Irish with 20 points, but they were outrebounded 35-25. Georgia’s Jabri Abdur-Rahim had a career-best 11 rebounds and added 12 points to record his first double-double.
It was a special win for Georgia first-year coach Mike White. His brother, Danny White, played for Brey at Notre Dame, and his father, Kevin White, hired him while working as athletic director for the Irish in 2000.
“It beats learning from a loss, which we’d done a couple times already,” White said. “But it’s great to beat an ACC program and a program that’s at the level Notre Dame is. It’s a Mike Brey-coached program, and it’s a good win for us as we continue to build. Probably just as important, we got better.”
It was the Bulldogs’ first game after a 12-day layoff from Thanksgiving break and exams. More important, that time allowed the team to heal from a flu strain that had wreaked havoc in the locker room.
It looked precarious early as Georgia fell behind by five as Notre Dame made four of its first seven 3-point shots. But an extended run that ended with Terry Roberts’ steal and fast-break layup in the final seconds landed the Bulldogs a 41-36 halftime lead.
Georgia stretched its lead to 10 over the first 10 minutes of the second half. But a Laszewski 3-pointer at the 7:43 mark got the Irish within three, 58-55.
Justin Hill answered with a 3-pointer for the Bulldogs and set them off on an 11-0 run that reestablished control of the game and brought the well-represented Georgia crowd into the game. The Bulldogs led by double digits the final 6:14, with a big lead of 16 points.
“We preach growth, growth, growth every day – and development,” White said. “I like what I saw out there tonight. We’re continuing to improve, which will give us a chance to be more competitive in the best league in college basketball.”
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