Georgia has ‘tall task’ in NIT road matchup vs. Wake Forest on Sunday

Georgia center Russel Tchewa during Georgia’s game against Wake Forest at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Ga., on Friday, Nov. 10, 2023. (Cassie Baker/UGAAA)

Credit: Cassie Baker /UGAAA

Credit: Cassie Baker /UGAAA

Georgia center Russel Tchewa during Georgia’s game against Wake Forest at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Ga., on Friday, Nov. 10, 2023. (Cassie Baker/UGAAA)

ATHENS — Just getting to the postseason seems to be coach Mike White’s toughest task. But once his teams get there, good things seem to happen.

That was the case with Georgia’s 78-76 win over Xavier in the first round of the NIT on Tuesday night. With that victory, White improved to 9-0 in the opening round of postseason games. That includes five NCAA Tournaments and four NITs.

“Having good players and good teams and taking advantage of the opportunities,” White said of his record of postseason success. “It’s pretty simple. Nothing magical about it.”

Among White’s postseason conquests is Georgia. His Louisiana Tech team defeated the Bulldogs 79-71 in Athens in 2014.

Of course, the concept of postseason tournaments is that the competition grows tougher with every round. That’s certainly the expectation Sunday afternoon as the Bulldogs (18-16) meet Wake Forest (21-13) in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, in their NIT second-round matchup (4 p.m., ESPN2).

Not only has Georgia (18-16) already met the Demon Deacons once this season – winning 80-77 on Nov. 10 in Athens – but Wake gets to play on its home court this time and, more important, will have at its disposal a key player who missed the previous outing.

Efton Reid III was not eligible for the teams’ last matchup at Stegeman Coliseum, and that’s not a small thing. A two-time transfer – from LSU to Gonzaga to Wake – Reid stands 7 feet tall and weighs 250 pounds. He has averaged 9.7 points and 7.8 rebounds since regaining his eligibility and has started the past 24 games for the Deacs. He had 17 points and 12 rebounds in Wake Forest’s 87-76 win over Appalachian State on Wednesday in Winston-Salem.

“A talent since he was 15 or 16 years old,” said White, who had recruiting interactions with Reid then. “He’s a really good get by those guys, and they’re a different team with him. Better both offensively and defensively, better rebounding team on the offensive glass. But they’ve improved in other spots, too. They’re a different team.”

Georgia could argue it’s a different team, too, but won’t. RJ “Sunny” Sunahara was sidelined with an injury at the time of the previous meeting and missed the first nine games. Then, again, even though he would start 11 games after returning, his averages of 2.0 points, 1.6 rebounds and 10.4 rebounds suggest he was less impactful.

That said, the Bulldogs are very different themselves. For one thing, freshmen Blue Cain and Dylan James became regular starters at the end of the season, joining freshman point guard Silas Demary Jr., who has been a starter from the outset.

Georgia also is expected to play without starting small forward Jabri Abdur-Rahim for a sixth consecutive game. A 6-foot-8, 210-pound senior and the team’s second-leading scorer (12.2 ppg), Abdur-Rahim has been sidelined with a severe ankle sprain. He has not been declared out for Sunday’s game but did not practice with the Bulldogs on Friday when they “went hard” in practice for the first time since the game Tuesday.

Abdur-Rahim was a factor in the last meeting with the Deacons. He made three 3-pointers and had 17 points while playing more than 30 minutes. Guard Noah Thomasson led the Bulldogs with 21 points.

Wake was led by the player who usually leads them – Kevin Miller. The 6-foot point guard led the Deacons with 22 points and seven assists against Georgia. He scored 31 points in his team’s win over App State.

Georgia took that day off, and the players and coaches watched that game separately.

“In an effort for rejuvenation, we’ve gone pretty light,” White said. “Did some development-type stuff, skill-level stuff, then got after it (Friday). But our guys are pretty sharp and enthusiastic. They like being around each other.

The Bulldogs could have all hands on deck and still be in for a challenge Sunday. White admitted as much, saying “the task is taller.” Not only are the Deacons much-improved with Reid, but they’re much better at home. Wake Forest is 17-1 this season at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

As the No. 4 seed in the NIT’s “Lower Left” bracket, Georgia would have hosted this game had App State won. As it turned out, that game never really was close.

The Bulldogs’ win over Xavier shouldn’t have been as close as it was. Georgia missed 6 of 14 free throws on the way to giving back all but two points of what once was a 23-point lead over Xavier on Tuesday.

Nevertheless, the Bulldogs will carry a good attitude with them to Tobacco Road. They insist they want to play together as long as possible.

“It’s definitely a great opportunity,” Demary said of winning and advancing to the second round. “We’ve had some big wins and some tough losses, but just to get another win in front of the hometown (fans) felt good for us.”

Demary is a Raleigh, North Carolina, native who was heavily recruited by Wake, as well as several other teams from that state. He expects to have “a big gathering” at Sunday’s game.

“If it’s in North Carolina, I don’t know how crazy it will be, but I know I’ll be jacked to be back home,” Demary said. “Just to get to play in front of a whole bunch of family and friends will be good for me.”

Winning would be even better.

Georgia guard Noah Thomasson (3) celebrates as time expires reacting to their 78-76 win against Xavier in the first round of the NCAA’s NIT at Stegeman Coliseum, Tuesday, March 19, 2024, in Athens, Ga. (Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz

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Credit: Jason Getz