Georgia Bulldogs defeat Vanderbilt for third win in a row

ATHENS — Georgia’s offense entered Saturday’s game against Vanderbilt firing on all cylinders. It kept the momentum rolling at Stegeman Coliseum in a 73-70 win over the Commodores.

Sahvir Wheeler and P.J. Horne led Georgia with 16 and 14 points. The Bulldogs (12-6, 5-6 SEC) shot 59% from the floor.

The Commodores (5-9, 1-7) tied the score at 70-70 with 44 seconds remaining on a layup by Scotty Pippen Jr. Georgia sophomore Toumani Camara drew a foul and made one of his free throws to take the lead.

Vanderbilt still had a chance, but Camara blocked Pippen’s layup attempt with five seconds remaining. Two more free throws by Justin Kier ended the game.

“(Camara) made a great play. He really did,” coach Tom Crean said. “He didn’t let the disappointment of a missed free throw (stop him). … It was a tremendous block against a guy that’s one of the best in the league at drawing fouls.”

The Bulldogs’ fortunes have turned since a debilitating loss to South Carolina 10 days ago. The win over Vanderbilt marks Georgia’s first three-game win streak since December, when it went undefeated in non-conference play. The Bulldogs started its SEC schedule with four consecutive losses.

Crean commended his players after the game for its ability to pull out a close win. He noted that Georgia hadn’t won three consecutive SEC games since March 2017. Crean’s predecessor Mark Fox was the coach at that time.

“It’s hard, hard, hard to win in this league,” Crean said. “Every night you play, you win by 20 or you win by one — it’s hard to do. It’s an excellent league. Vanderbilt is coming off it’s best game of the year. They have been right there in many, many games.”

Georgia out-rebounded Vanderbilt 31-23, marking only the third SEC game in which it managed to do that. The other two were against Auburn on Tuesday and in a loss to LSU on Jan. 6.

The Bulldogs’ lack of size makes it hard to out-rebound opponents, Crean said. Even if Georgia secured the statistical advantage over Vanderbilt, Crean wished his players had grabbed more offensive rebounds. There were a few times they didn’t adequately block out.

Credit: Tony Walsh

Credit: Tony Walsh

Crean’s team lost the turnover battle 21-13, including five by freshman K.D. Johnson. Vanderbilt capitalized, scoring 29 points off of the Bulldogs’ turnovers. Players dropped balls and dribbled out of bounds. Georgia has committed more turnovers than its opponent in seven of its 11 conference games.

Before tipoff, the Bulldogs’ chief concern was containing Pippen, the son of former Chicago Bulls star Scottie Pippen. The sophomore ranked second in the SEC in scoring and assists entering Saturday’s game. Georgia’s defense held Pippen to 12 points, six in each half.

An 11-point run late in the first half propelled Georgia to its biggest lead of the game at nine points. Camara scored his first five points during that stretch, including a dunk off an offensive rebound.

Horne, a graduate transfer from Virginia Tech, led the Bulldogs with 11 points in the first half. The 6-foot-6 big man finished with four 3-pointers on five attempts.

Camara and Kier added 10 points each. Wheeler contributed a team-high nine assists. Jaxon Etter, a sophomore walk-on, scored seven points and provided enough energy off the bench to be on the floor at the end of the game.

“There’s always been a chip on my shoulder ever since I graduated high school and didn’t really have too many offers,” Etter said. “I decided to walk on at Georgia, where I grew up being a Dog. … Shout out to my parents because they really push me to be the best.”

Saturday’s game took place at 6 p.m., five hours after the original scheduled time. The change accommodated the hole in SEC Network programming after the Texas A&M-Arkansas game was postponed because of COVID-19 protocols.

Georgia is still scheduled to play at Texas A&M at 7 p.m. Wednesday. The Aggies (8-7, 2-6) have the second worst conference record behind only Vanderbilt.

Every game, including the one Saturday, shouldn’t be taken for granted, Crean said. COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on college basketball.

“You’re thankful that you get these opportunities,” Crean said. “There were 32 games this morning that were canceled or postponed, including two in our league. Not only is it hard to win, tomorrow is not promised to you here.”

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