Garcia was perhaps the biggest surprise for Georgia. The 6-foot-6, 225-pound forward transferred from Stonybrook University, where he played in 77 games and averaged 10.1 points and 5.4 rebounds over the last three years. Garcia was incredibly efficient in his 23 minutes of work, going 6-of-8 from the field and 10-of-11 from the foul line to settle what for a while was a frenetic offensive effort by the Bulldogs.
Georgia again shot too many 3s (22) and didn’t make enough of them (5, or 22.7%). But the Bulldogs shot 48.4% from the field and were 20-of-26 from the foul line (76.9%)
“Andrew did a great job of just playing to his strengths, playing the way he’s built to play,” Georgia coach Tom Crean said. “But he also knows we’re working every day to stretch his game.”
Garcia filled the role expected from Virginia Tech transfer P.J. Horne. But Horne got into early foul trouble and was scoreless until finally making a 3-pointer with 5:45 remaining in the game. He finished with 5 points in 20 minutes.
“I take my role to heart,” Garcia said. “Wherever coach puts me, I’m going to give 100% of my effort. If I have to guard bigger guys or I’m in a mismatch, I’m going to try to help this team out and I want to win.”
In the end, Georgia played all but one player on its socially distanced bench, which was notably missing a dressed-out K.D. Johnson. The heralded freshman guard out of Hargrave Military by way of Atlanta’s Southwest DeKalb High had to sit out as the Bulldogs continue to work with the NCAA on what Crean called “academic certification issues.”
“Not only is he probably one of the best freshmen in the league, he is our most competitive guy, and we have some competitors,” Crean said. “Right now, we’re working with our compliance staff, with Will Lawler and Steve Flippen, to revisit his eligibility status with the NCAA and we remain hopeful that he’ll be able to play this season.”
Crean emphasized that it “is not an amateurism issue.”
With no exhibitions or even officiated scrimmages to build off of, Crean said he really had no idea what his team might look like in Sunday’s opener. Not surprisingly, it was up and down.
The Bulldogs shot out to a 13-2 lead only to fall behind by five late in the first half. Georgia managed to eke out a 38-37 halftime lead thanks to Garcia’s short, contested jumper at the buzzer.
The Bulldogs maintained small leads over the first five minutes of the second half only to see A&M pulled back even time and again. They were tied 47-all at the 15:30 mark when Garcia made a pair of free throws to put Georgia ahead by two.
Fagan would score the next eight points on feeds from Wheeler, one of them a fast-break dunk off an A&M turnover. The Rattlers called a timeout at the 13:35 mark to slow the roll.
It worked as both Wheeler and Fagan went to the Georgia bench for a rest. By the time they returned, the lead had shrunk to six. A Tyron McMillan alley-oop dunk off another Wheeler feed got the lead back to 69-60 with 6:10 to go. Georgia would stretch it to 15 points on a Wheeler drive following a Justin Kier 3, and the finally three minutes were merely semantics.
“I liked our start,” Crean said. “(The team) was excellent this morning at our walk-through, everybody was energized and ready to play. Certainly there was apprehension yesterday as to whether we were actually going to play today. But they were ready go, ready to play, and we played a lot of people, which was something I wanted to do.”
Georgia (1-0) will remain home this week as it plays host to the Jacksonville Dolphins on Friday at 7 p.m. However, the Bulldogs are working on possibly adding another game on Wednesday. Stay tuned.