TAMPA -- An era came to an end at Amalie Arena Wednesday night. The Georgia Bulldogs can only hope the next one is better.

Georgia’s 2021-22 season closed with an 86-51 loss to Vanderbilt in the first round of the SEC Tournament. The tenure of coach Tom Crean ended here, too.

There were no announcements from UGA afterward, but with the loss dropping the Bulldogs to an all-time SEC worst record of 6-26 -- they went 1-17 in conference play to finish last in the league -- the writing is on the wall and has been for a while.

Crean’s imminent dismissal will come soon, likely within a week. A search firm has been vetting replacement candidates for UGA behind the scenes for weeks now.

If he is resigned to his fate or shared any feelings about it with his players afterward, Georgia’s fourth-year coach wasn’t letting on in the postgame press conference.

“I don’t have any,” Crean said when asked what his plans were now that the season was over. “I’ll watch this tape when I get back to the hotel. Other than that I don’t have any plans. Then we’ll leave in the morning, that’s part of the plan.”

Crean was asked if he addressed his future with his players before or after the game.

“You know what, anything with my situation has got to go through the athletic department. Right?” Crean said. “It’s not a thing I spend a lot of time on. I just coach my team and that’s what I do every day. That’s what my focus is.”

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Vandy, the No. 11 seed, improved to 16-15 overall and advances to the second round, where the Commodores will meet sixth-seeded Alabama Thursday night. Vanderbilt beat Georgia three times this season. Scottie Pippen Jr. led four players in double figures with 14 points. The Commodores made 16 3s.

Vanderbilt coach Jerry Stackhouse expressed empathy for Crean.

“I know it’s kind of tough; everybody kind of saw the news of what’s possibly coming down the pike with them,” Stackhouse said. “But for him to come out and still coach his team, my hat’s off to Tom. … It’s a fraternity, we who are coaches, and this is a tough business and you have to have success or else there’s going to be some changes. But he’s a good coach and I know he’ll land somewhere.”

The short-handed Bulldogs were led as usual by first-year transfers Braelen Bridges and Kario Oquendo. Bridges, the SEC leader in field-goal percentage, scored 15 points. Oquendo finished with 11 points despite sitting on the bench for much of the second half.

Bridges, an Atlanta native and senior who transferred to Georgia from Illinois-Chicago last summer, was asked how he felt about the record-breaking losing streaks and coaching uncertainty he endured in his first year in the program.

“I just appreciate the opportunity that coach Crean and the coaching staff gave me, believing in me coming from UIC and blessing me with a scholarship to play at this university,” Bridges said. “I’m just taking it one day at a time, working hard every day. It’s just unfortunate we didn’t come out winning.”

Vanderbilt 86, Georgia 51

Crean has said before he believes Bridges, Oquendo and other Georgia players will return next season.

For the first time all year, the Bulldogs played without the energy and determination they’ve displayed all season. It didn’t start out that way. Georgia stopped Vanderbilt on eight consecutive possessions early in the game and was trailing 9-8 eight minutes into the contest.

But then the Bulldogs embarked on their worst scoring drought of the season. They managed just two points over a stretch of more than 10 minutes and fell behind 30-10 in the process. They trailed by 21 points, 35-14, at halftime after recording a season-low for scoring in a period. The previous low was 22 points in the opening game of the season and Georgia won that game over Florida International.

“We started off good on defense, but toward the end of the first half we started losing our guys a lot and weren’t hitting shots a lot,” said Oquendo, who was 3-fot-10 from the floor and 0-for-7 from 3-point range.

The Bulldogs’ first-half numbers were scary bad: 4-of-22 shooting, 0-of-7 from 3-point range, seven turnovers, out-rebounded 26-17. A group of Georgia fans behind the bench put paper grocery bags over their heads at halftime. Most had left the arena early in the second half.

Credit: Chip Towers

Credit: Chip Towers

When Vandy walkon Drew Weikert made a 3-pointer with 4:56 remaining in the game, the misery for the smattering of Georgia fans remaining had reached an excruciating level. Other than players’ parents and coaches’ families, most had left by then.

Crean was asked if he thought his team was distracted by his circumstances.

“I’m not sure,” he said. “We didn’t play well. We played hard, but we didn’t play well and there were times it didn’t look like we played very hard. But I’m not certain on that.”

Through it all, the always-frenetic Crean never slowed his trademark march up and down the sideline in front of the Bulldogs’ bench. He was coaching hard and yelling hard, shouting “move” and “cut” and encouragement throughout.

A few times he gave his charges a puzzled look at the shots they were attempting. Many were wild, as were more than a few passes.

“Too many turnovers, too many open 3s, too much miscommunication and too much losing our spirit when we’re not scoring points,” Crean said, and not for first time during this long season.