Georgia falls short to Kentucky in SEC opener, 78-69
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Georgia falls short to Kentucky in SEC opener, 78-69

Georgia-Kentucky
Photo: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

ATHENS, Ga. – The Georgia Bulldogs were narrowly defeated by the Kentucky Wildcats, 78-69, in a back-and-forth battle during their SEC opener on Tuesday night in front of a sold-out crowd at Stegeman Coliseum.

Freshman Anthony Edwards paced the Bulldogs in scoring for the seventh time this season. He accumulated 23 points, surpassing the 20-point mark for the seventh time in his young career. Senior Jordan Harris joined Edwards in double-figures, recording 10 points.

Harris grabbed six boards to tie freshman Toumani Camara for the team high in rebounds. Harris also matched freshman teammate Sahvir Wheeler for the Bulldogs’ leader in assists, as both finished with three apiece.

“At the end of the day, when a shot goes up, you have to hit somebody,” Georgia head coach Tom Crean said. “You have to hit them constantly. That’s what [Kentucky] is so good at. We preach two-handed rebounding, and we lose rebounds because we go up with one hand. When we’re playing a team that’s so fundamentally sound as they are with the boards, that’s an issue. The rebounding got us. We couldn’t deal with the live ball turnovers, but the rebounding got us in the second half.”

Edwards got off to a quick start, scoring Georgia’s first five points. With 18:30 to player, the freshman sensation opened with a jumper which he followed with a contested shot from behind the arc on the ensuing possession to give the Bulldogs the 5-0 lead.

Kentucky took its first lead of the contest (10-5) with 16:12 to play due to the combination of an 10-0 run over 3:13 and a 3:11 Georgia scoring drought.

After the Wildcats committed a flagrant foul, Hammonds drained two shots from the line to get the Bulldogs within one point. Georgia regained the one-point advantage in the following possession thanks to a layup from Harris.

Out of a media timeout, Harris blocked a Kentucky dunk to force a turnover. Crump took advantage on the other end, draining a 3-pointer. These baskets, along with a contested jumper from Hammonds and a free-throw from Wheeler, combined for a 9-0 Georgia run to give the Bulldogs the 16-12 lead with 11:18 to play.

After eight minutes of back-and-forth play, including five ties and five lead changes, Georgia regained a consistent lead with a 3-pointer from Hammonds.

In the closing minutes, the Bulldogs grabbed the largest advantage for either team up to that point of nine, 37-28. Back-to-back baskets from freshman Christian Brown, including a dunk and a fast-break layup, and a dunk from Edwards, extended Georgia’s lead further with 11 seconds left.

A three-point basket from Kentucky at the buzzer sent Georgia into the locker room sporting the 37-31 lead.

The Wildcats got within one of the Bulldogs in the opening two minutes of the second half, but Edwards answered with consecutive three-point baskets to hold off Kentucky and maintain the five-point Georgia advantage, 45-50.

With 11:59 remaining, Kentucky was again able to chip its deficit back down to one (49-48). After trailing for 16 minutes, the Wildcats regained the one-point, 58-57, advantage, off a three-point basket.

An and-one for Kentucky propelled it to a six-point lead — its largest lead of the contest up to that point— with 7:10 remaining in the second half. Georgia answered defensively by forcing a 3:14 Wildcat scoring drought while scoring six points to get within two (63-61).

The Bulldogs were never able to cut their deficit further than two. A basket from the line solidified the 78-69 Kentucky victory.

Up next, Georgia travels to Auburn to take on the No. 5 ranked Auburn Tigers on Saturday, Jan. 11, at 6 p.m. The matchup will be televised on ESPN. The Bulldogs return to Stegeman Coliseum to host the Tennessee Volunteers Wednesday, Jan. 15, at 7 p.m.

POST-GAME NOTES

• Tonight’s SEC opener also marked Georgia’s first sell-out of the season with 10,523 attendees at Stegeman Coliseum. All told, six of the Bulldogs’ nine SEC home dates are already sold out.

• Two Bulldogs had double-figure scoring nights, including freshman Anthony Edwards with 23 points and senior Jordan Harris with 10.

• Out of Kentucky’s 15 opponents this season, Georgia is only the fourth team to limit the Wildcats’ lead-time to under 31 minutes.

• Harris tied to lead in two categories, including rebounds (6) and assists (3). Both numbers mark season-highs for the senior Bulldog.

• Edwards passed the 20-point mark in a single game for the seventh time. He has now led Georgia in scoring for seven games this season.

• Three Bulldogs shot 80 percent or better from the free throw line. Both Edwards and Hammonds went 4-5 from the line, while Wheeler boasted a 6-7 free throw performance.

• Georgia was 70 percent at the free throw line, while Kentucky finished with a season-low of 50 percent.

• In the first half alone, Georgia scored 15 bench points. In last year’s outing between the Bulldogs and WIldcats, UGA scored just 18 the entire game.

• By halftime, the Bulldogs had tallied five times as many points off the bench than Kentucky with 15 compared to the Wildcats’ five. Georgia finished with 27 bench points, while Kentucky scored 23.

• Less than midway through the second half, Georgia had outscored its total points last season against Kentucky (49), at the time leading the Wildcats 53-50. This also marked the first time in four matchups the Bulldogs totaled 60-plus points.

• Georgia led for the last four minutes of the first half and the opening 12 minutes of the second frame to force a 16-minute Kentucky deficit.

• For the first time this season, Georgia lost after scoring the game’s first points. The Bulldogs were 9-0 when scoring first this season.

POST-GAME QUOTES

GEORGIA HEAD COACH TOM CREAN

On the rebounding battle…
“At the end of the day, when a shot goes up, you have to hit somebody. You’ve got to hit them constantly. That’s what [Kentucky] is so good at. We preach two-handed rebounding, and we lose rebounds because we go up with one hand. When we’re playing a team that’s so fundamentally sound as they are with the boards, that’s an issue. The rebounding got us. We couldn’t deal with the live ball turnovers, but the rebounding got us in the second half.”

On the next game against Auburn…
“I told them that what we’re getting ready to deal with on Saturday will be tougher than anything we’ve done all year. The guys that are competitive and have the make-up of fighting and competing will show up for it. We’re young…We have 10 new guys who just played their first SEC game, so I understand that.”

GEORGIA PLAYER ANTHONY EDWARDS

On Rayshaun Hammonds fouling out…
“Rayshaun is a key player to the team, so when he fouls out, it brings us down one notch because we need him on the floor. He’s the best rebounder we have and in the SEC. When he’s out, we can’t really do anything.”

On what fans can look forward to moving forward…
“They can look forward to us being more of a team, playing better team defense, and winning more games. We took a tough loss today, but we are going to come back and be better. [We’re going to] talk and be more tough.”

GEORGIA PLAYER RAYSHAUN HAMMONDS

On whether the team felt like they got worn down by Kentucky…
“I would not say that, but, we were not talking as a team, including me. All the guards and the big men were not talking. We just have to get better with doing that. We need to lock in from now on.”

On having 10 teammates playing for the first time in SEC play…
“It was a learning experience. But, they have been playing in it. We were not talking as a team. We have to pick it up! You know you learn from your mistakes. We have 17 more games left in the SEC. We have to learn from that now.”

On the positives the team can take from this game…
“It showed that we can play with other SEC teams. It is a learning experience. We are going to have to move on. We play Auburn Saturday, and we are going to have to move on.”

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