Georgia Bulldogs advance to NIT quarterfinals with win over Wake

Next up: Ohio State Buckeyes in Columbus on Tuesday
Georgia's Justin Hill drives to the basket past Wake Forest's Parker Friedrichsen during an NCAA college basketball game in the second round of the NIT, Sunday, March 24, 2024, in Winston-Salem, N.C. (Walt Unks/The Winston-Salem Journal via AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Georgia's Justin Hill drives to the basket past Wake Forest's Parker Friedrichsen during an NCAA college basketball game in the second round of the NIT, Sunday, March 24, 2024, in Winston-Salem, N.C. (Walt Unks/The Winston-Salem Journal via AP)

ATHENS – In these transitive times of college athletics, the Georgia Bulldogs aren’t in a hurry to break up as a team.

That was the explanation given by Justin Hill for the Bulldogs’ refusal to let the season end. Georgia extended it at least a couple more days on Sunday with an impressive 72-66 road win over Wake Forest in the second round of the National Invitation Tournament. Thanks to the victory, the Bulldogs (19-16) advance to the NIT quarterfinals.

“Just keep playing; win or go home,” said Hill, a senior guard who led the Bulldogs with 21 points on Sunday. “We know what happens if we lose and we like this group a lot. We want to stay with each other as long as we can.”

Georgia actually will head straight to Columbus from Winston-Salem, N.C., to take on Ohio State on Tuesday night (7 p.m., ESPN). The Buckeyes (21-13) defeated Virginia Tech 81-73 on Saturday.

As for Sunday, Georgia was able to log its fifth road win over a Power 6 opponent this season despite missing several key players. Seven-footer Russel Tchewa had to sit out due to an undisclosed illness, starting small forward Jabri Abdur-Rahim missed his sixth consecutive game with an ankle injury and graduate reserve RJ Sunahara also was unable to go due to an injury.

Nevertheless, the Bulldogs’ bench outscored Wake Forest’s reserves 23-2, with most of that production coming from Hill. Georgia also got 19 points from graduate guard Noah Thomasson, who had five 3-pointers, and 14 from freshman Dylan James, who scored a career-high 14 points and went 4-of-5 from beyond the arc.

Senior Frank Anselem-Ibe filled in admirably for Tchewa at center, collecting eight rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots and scoring his only two points by making his only two foul shots. Freshman point guard Silas Demary Jr. played a team-high 33 minutes and, while he scored only six points on 2-of-7 shooting, he recorded five rebounds and an assist.

“Our guys really enjoy being around each other,” Georgia coach Mike White said after the game. “You go back to that Italy trip (in the preseason) and some of the road trips we made in non-conference, this is a big win for our program.”

Short-handed in the post, Georgia was outscored 40-12 in the paint. Wake Forest’s 6-foot-11 center Andrew Carr accounted for the majority of those with a career-high 31 points and 11 rebounds. The Demon Deacons (20-14) also were playing shorthanded without All-ACC guard and leading scorer Hunter Silas.

It was Georgia’s first NIT road win since 1998 when it beat N.C. State 61-55 to advance to the NIT Final Four. The Bulldogs improve to 6-3 all-time versus Wake Forest and 2-2 in Winston-Salem.

The game wasn’t without some scary moments for Georgia. The Bulldogs followed a frustrating pattern their fans have seen way too often this season in which they build up a big lead only to give all or most of it back. That happened again Sunday as Georgia saw its early second-half, 19-point lead whittled down to just five, 57-52, with 6:41 to play.

But the Demon Deacons could get no closer. Hill answered the late charge with six points in a row to push the advantage back to nine with 5:13 to play. At the 3:31 mark, James splashed a 3-pointer from the corner to make it 64-54. That was followed by a Thomasson 4-point play 21 seconds later to make it 68-56.

One more surge by Wake would see them get within 71-66 on a Carr dunk with 16 seconds remaining. But the home team would not score again.

The Deacons’ loss was just their second on their home court all year. They were 17-1 previously.

“I thought Wake had as strong an argument to go to the NCAA Tournament as anybody in this field,” White said. “But I felt that our guys would compete at a really high level and rally around having a couple of guys out. I just told our team how proud I am of their basketball character and competing their butts off.”