Georgia pulls out gritty, much-needed win over LSU

Georgia center Braelen Bridges (23) calls for the ball as LSU's Shawn Phillips defends during an SEC game Stegeman Coliseum in Athens on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023. (Photo by Tony Walsh/UGA Athletics)

Credit: Tony Walsh/UGAAA

Credit: Tony Walsh/UGAAA

Georgia center Braelen Bridges (23) calls for the ball as LSU's Shawn Phillips defends during an SEC game Stegeman Coliseum in Athens on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023. (Photo by Tony Walsh/UGA Athletics)

ATHENS -- With an 8:30 p.m. tipoff on Valentine’s Day night, Stegeman Coliseum was predictably subdued for Tuesday’s tilt between Georgia and last-place LSU. So, unlike other home games this season in which the Bulldogs have been lifted by the atmosphere created by their home crowd, they had to create their own energy.

They never really did, but equal parts grit and willpower -- along with some heady plays by guard Justin Hill -- allowed Georgia to outlast its pesky visitors for a hard-fought 65-63 win.

Hill’s layup with 4.4 seconds remaining provided the winning points and his steal of LSU’s ensuing in-bounds pass sealed the victory. Hill made one of two foul shots with 0.8 seconds left.

Hill carried out coach Mike White’s instructions to the letter. He was told if the Tigers scored a go-ahead bucket -- which they did on K.J. Williams’ floater with 11.2 seconds remaining -- there would be no timeout called. The plan, then, was to get down the court as quickly as he could to shoot or dish.

It took Hill less than seven seconds to make that happen.

“Coach said get out quick if they score and that’s what we did,” said Hill, who finished with 10 points on the night. “I just went and saw an opening, so I took it.”

LSU first-year coach Matt McMahon was kicking himself for not stopping the action.

“It’s my fault,’ he said. I wish I could have done a better job for them there down the stretch. ... Hindsight is always 20/20, but I should have called a timeout in that situation, use your last time out.”

It was basically a must-have game for the Bulldogs (16-10, 6-7 SEC), who actually do have some postseason considerations to play for. They next hit the road to take on No. 1-ranked Alabama in Tuscaloosa on Saturday at 6 p.m. But with three victories in the six games it is guaranteed going forward, Georgia could triple its win total from a year ago.

And on a night their offense went AWOL, the Bulldogs improved to 12-0 in games in which they hold opponents below 70 points.

LSU (12-14, 1-12) dropped its 12th consecutive SEC game. The Tigers were undone by 19 turnovers and Georgia notched 8 steals.

White was almost at a loss of words for how poorly his team played in the first half. The Bulldogs’ star trio of Terry Roberts, Kario Oquendo and Braelen Bridges combined for just seven points as Georgia shot 29% from the field and had seven turnovers.

They’d shoot 60.9% after halftime. White apparently helped provide a boost with a rare locker-room tirade.

“He wasn’t happy, but it was necessary,” said Jabri Abdur-Rahim, who made three 3s and scored 11 points. “We didn’t expect him to come in there and act like everything was all right, because it wasn’t.”

Said White: “Just trying something different. Sometimes you let it out a little bit. You only have a few bullets every season. Games like this are tricky, because LSU had a lot to do with our difficiences, but our attention to detail tonight was nowhere near where it was on Saturday (vs. Kentucky), and that’s not acceptable.”

Bridges got the Bulldogs back on track in the second half with 13 points, 11 coming after intermission. A 73.6% foul-shooting team, the Bulldogs shot 57.7 Tuesday night

Georgia, which had trailed by as many as eight points in the first half, fought back to take a 57-49 lead with 6:24 to play. But after missing a slew of free throws down the stretch -- they were 15-of-26 for the game -- the Tigers reclaimed the lead, 63-62, on K.J. Williams lay-in with 11.2 seconds to go.

Georgia quickly got the ball to Hill on the inbounds pass, and he dribbled the length of the floor to score on a contested layup from the right side of the goal. Referees put two-tenths of a second on the clock for LSU’s inbounds.

After an LSU timeout to see how Georgia was going to defend, Hill picked off the inbound throw at midcourt.

It was way harder than it should’ve been, or Georgia wanted it to be. After trailing by as many as eight points in the first half, the Bulldogs finally ran down the Tigers on back-to-back baskets off turnovers by Bridges and Jusuan Holt to surge ahead 37-35 at the 13:53 mark.

LSU didn’t wilt, though, and the teams traded leads over the next five minutes

Georgia played one of the poorest first halves of the season on its home floor, yet managed to get to the locker room trailing only 28-26. The Bulldogs simply couldn’t buy a basket against their scrappy visitors, shooting 25% from the field up until the final few minutes of the opening half and falling behind by eight points midway through.

But Georgia woke up defensively in the final five minutes. LSU didn’t score for the final 4:35 and had five turnovers during that stretch. Hill scored five points in the final two minutes for the Bulldogs, including a lay-up right before the halftime buzzer.

“Every win in this league is very, very difficult, so we’ll just settle for the win, of course,” White said.