Georgia’s second-half comeback falls short against Florida

Georgia's Sahvir Wheeler (2) scored a career-high 27 points on the road against Florida Saturday but was unable to lift the Bulldogs to victory. (Tony Walsh/UGA Athletics)
Georgia's Sahvir Wheeler (2) scored a career-high 27 points on the road against Florida Saturday but was unable to lift the Bulldogs to victory. (Tony Walsh/UGA Athletics)

Credit: Tony Walsh

Credit: Tony Walsh

Mr. Hyde showed up in a Georgia uniform again.

Edward Hyde was the evil alter-ego of Dr. Henry Jekyll in the famous 19th century novel by Robert Louis Stevenson. The Bulldogs’ play on the SEC road this season has occasionally bordered on evil in its badness. That was the case again in the first half against Florida on Saturday.

Georgia fell behind by 18 points early and couldn’t make it all up in a second-half comeback that had them coming up short again, 70-63, at Florida’s Exacta Arena at O’Connell Center.

With the loss, the Bulldogs (14-9, 6-9 SEC) likely will need to win their final three regular-season games and make a deep run in the SEC Tournament to preserve any hope of a postseason bid. LSU (13-7, 8-5) visits at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

The Gators, who won 92-84 in Athens on Jan. 23, sweep the season series. They’re now 11-6, 7-5 in league play after missing the previous two weeks because of COVID-19 protocols.

Similarly, the Bulldogs fell behind No. 20 Missouri by 13 on Tuesday but rallied for an 80-70 win.

Georgia’s Sahvir Wheeler did everything he possibly could to make it a game Saturday. The sophomore point guard scored a career-high 27 points and added four assists. Tye Fagan was the Bulldogs’ only other player in double figures, with 14. The rest of the team shot 9-of-39 (23%) from the floor, and Georgia was 4-of-20 from 3-point range.

The Bulldogs missed their first 11 attempts from beyond the arc before Fagan finally broke the drought with 1:10 remaining in the first half. Georgia trailed 37-23 at halftime.

“I can’t explain it, just like I can’t explain it when they’re making them in the games,” Georgia coach Tom Crean said. “To have our three seniors go 1-for-17 and have Toumani (Camara) go half the game because of the foul issues and still have a chance to win in a two-possession game with 30 seconds to go says a lot about what the guys on the floor were doing defensively.”

Justin Kier (1-for-10), Andrew Garcia (0-2) and P.J. Horne (0-5), Georgia’s three graduate transfers, indeed combined to go 1-for-17 from the floor. Camara, a 6-foot-8 sophomore forward and the Bulldogs’ best inside player, fouled out with 8:28 remaining. He finished with seven points and five rebounds and played a season-low 20 minutes.

Despite all that, the Bulldogs were able to get within five points with 27.6 seconds to play when Horne made one of two free throws. After Florida’s Tyree Appleby made two free throws with 27 seconds still left, Johnson passed up an open 3-point try and then missed a lay-up. After Florida rebounded the miss, Georgia let the Gators dribble out the clock.

The Gators didn’t shoot much better. They went 1-for-13 from 3 after halftime and shot 26.1 from beyond the arc for the game.

Nevertheless, Florida was ahead by 15, 64-49, at the 3:57 media timeout. Then the Bulldogs forced three consecutive turnovers, which they turned into seven points. Georgia would outscore Florida 13-2 in a span of less than three minutes. Fagan missed a layup on which he appeared to be fouled, then Horne made only one of two free throws with 27.6 seconds remaining.

The issue was little more than the Bulldogs not being able hit an open shot in the first half. Georgia shot 32.3 percent overall and 8.3 percent from 3-point range. As a result, it fell behind by 18 with 5:37 to go in the first half.

“I don’t have a great answer than the shots we were taking just didn’t go in,” Crean said. “Maybe I’ll feel different after I watch the film. The bottom line is when our shots aren’t going in, we’re very fragile. … But we were able to stay with it on defense today.”

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