Georgia outlasts Montana, 63-50
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Georgia outlasts Montana, 63-50

Georgia-Montana
Photo: Tony Walsh/UGA

ATHENS, Ga. – In a grinding effort, the University of Georgia men’s basketball team defeated the Montana Grizzlies, 63-50, Tuesday evening before 1,638 spectators at Stegeman Coliseum. The Bulldogs (4-0) overcame a below-average shooting performance to top the Grizzlies (0-4), dominating in the paint and on the boards.

Sophomore Toumani Camara led Georgia with his first career double-double, posting 15 points on 7-for-13 shooting and a career-high 17 rebounds and three steals. Camara was the third Bulldog with a double-double this season and tallied the most rebounds since Trey Thompkins grabbed 17 against Alabama on Feb. 20, 2010.

Graduate Andrew Garcia pitched in 13 points on 5-for-8 shooting with five rebounds, while fellow transfers Justin Kier and P.J. Horne also notched double-digits in scoring, with each downing a pair of 3-pointers. Sophomore Sahvir Wheeler racked up nine points and led the team with five assists.

For the night, the Bulldogs shot only 39.7 percent from the field, but outrebounded the Grizzlies, 49-30. Georgia also outscored Montana in transition by a 24-3 margin.

“We were fortunate,” said head coach Tom Crean following the game. “We really were because we had guys that showed up like they were 3-0, rather than trying to get on a one-game winning streak. It’s a whole different mindset.”

Georgia came out firing in the opening moments, quickly building a 9-0 lead and forcing an early Montana timeout after a Horne 3-pointer. The Bulldogs continued to set a torrid pace, hitting on nine of their first 11 shots to build a 19-5 lead near the 14-minute mark of the first half.

Using sharp outside shooting, Montana began to come back, posting a 15-4 run that brought the deficit to three points with five minutes to play. Sophomore forward Kyle Owens paced the Grizzlies with 10 first-half points, en route to a game-high 17 points.

Back-to-back baskets from Kier, coupled with a Grizzlies scoring drought, helped Georgia restore its lead to 32-24 at the break, although the Bulldogs nearly went scoreless in the final three minutes themselves.

After Montana narrowed the lead to five to open the second half, Georgia’s offense returned to life with a quick 9-2 run that returned the lead to double-digits. The Bulldogs’ advantage hovered around 10 points as both teams struggled to score, but consecutive layups from Garcia and Wheeler extended the margin heading into the under-12 timeout.

Once again, the Grizzlies worked their way back into the contest, but a 3-pointer from Kier and a jumper from Camara maintained a comfortable distance for the Bulldogs. Scoring struggles returned for both teams with a two-minute drought finally broken up by a Camara layup at the 3:59 mark. Holding a nine-point lead with under two to play, Horne connected on his second 3-pointer of the night to clinch the Georgia victory.

“We need to play better and we will,” said Crean. “The lineups will change as we go, and some guys will flourish and some guys will take a little bit longer to figure it out. We have to be good together, and when we are, then we’ll be fine.”

Georgia will remain home this weekend as it plays host to the Samford Bulldogs on Saturday, Dec. 12 at Stegeman Coliseum. The non-conference matchup is set for a 7 p.m. tip time and will be broadcast on SEC Network+.

POST-GAME NOTES

• Tonight was the first meeting between Georgia and Montana; and just the second time the Bulldogs have faced a Big Sky Conference team.

• Sophomore Toumani Camara had a career night on the boards, grabbing a personal-best 17 rebounds on the way to his first career double-double. Camara also led the Bulldogs in scoring with 15 points on 7-for-13 shooting. This makes him the first Georgia player with 15+ points, 15+ rebounds, and 3+ steals since Jumaine Jones on Mar. 20, 2010 versus Penn State.

• Camara is now the third different Bulldog with at least one double-double this season (Wheeler & Fagan), when there were only two different players last season who reached that achievement (Edwards & Hammonds).

• Graduate transfer Andrew Garcia is shooting 66.7 percent from the field in his first four gaames wearing the Red and Black. At Stony Brook, Garcia only shot for 45.4 percent in his first three seasons with the Seawolves.

• Georgia outrebounded Montana in all three facets. M: 30/ UGA:49, defensive rebounds M: 27/ UGA: 31, and offensive rebounds M: 3/UGA: 18. With 17 rebounds individually Camara is the first Georgia player with 17 rebounds since Trey Thompkins versus Alabama on Feb. 20, 2010.

• Graduate transfer Justin Kier scored his most points as a Bulldog tonight with 12. Keir also tied his season high of rebounds with 6 boards.

• Sophomore Sahvir Wheeler entered into tonight’s game ranked with the SEC’s highest number of assists at 32 and averaging 10.67 a game. Wheeler now adds five more assists to that tally after playing the Griz.

• Toumani Camara tied his career of steals with three in his dominant performance against the Griz.

• Andrew Garcia had his most rebounds repping the Red and Black with five. He also tied his career high blocks with two.

• All three of Georgia’s graduate transfers scored in double figures for the Bulldogs. P.J. Horne did so for the third time this season and 17th time in his career. Justin Kier had his second double-digit outing of the season and 53rd of his career. Andrew Garcia posted his second double-figure performance this season and 42nd of his career.

POST-GAME QUOTES

Georgia head coach Tom Crean

Radio:

“We were fortunate. We really were because we had guys that showed up like they were 3-0, rather than trying to get on a one-game winning streak. It’s a whole different mindset. When you walk in and you’re 3-0 and you think you can just arrive and now I’m going to play the way I want to play, well you don’t play very well. We had some guys that didn’t play very well tonight. But, we had some that played outstanding, led by Toumani Camara. He came out in the attack, was a plus-11 in the game—he had 15 points and 17 rebounds and 16 deflections. He came in with the right mindset. Again, it’s a process, and it’s important for our fans to understand this too. Everybody’s in a different role on this team right now. There’s no lottery pick sitting in that room right now that’s going to 1-2-or-3 in the draft. That’s not where we’re at. So, where we have to be as a collective mindset as a group that’s together in everything they do. And tonight, our spirit defensively was good. Our attitude and determination on the glass was good, but we did not move without the ball and move the ball the way we needed to, and we had way too many sad looks when we weren’t making shots. We’ve just got to grow through it because we’re not good enough to play that way. We’re fortunate with the win, and I think it’s a great lesson of what happens. We won the game, but to score only 63 points is a view of our lack of activity.”

“Hopefully, it’s a learning lesson. We’re not built to not be really good together. We have to be good together, and when we are, then we’ll be fine. But, when we get quiet and we’re not as active, when we don’t cut, then those things kind of hurt us. There’s four things you can control: you can control what kind of defensive effort or energy you’re going to bring. You can control the pursuit of the ball and the physical block-outs. You can’t control if you’re going to get it, but you can control your effort. You can control how hard you run and you can control your movement without the basketball, especially with the way we play. We were back to guys jogging in the wing, instead of running to the corner, and we’ve just got to play better. We need to play better and we will. The lineups will change as we go, and some guys will flourish and some guys will take a little bit longer to figure it out.”​

Presser:

On the team’s performance…

“Tonight, was the definition of a grinder. I don’t know if it had to be as much of a grinder on offense because I think we missed some shots at times or we didn’t get the ball, and we got our feelings hurt. You can’t have that mentality. Your mentality has to be to keep coming. What this team did, which is really hard for teams, is that they kept guarding at a high level. When guys weren’t making shots or the ball wasn’t moving as crisply as it was because of the way that they were playing off in the paint against Sahvir [Wheeler], we still played really hard defensively, and we still played really hard on the glass. As I’ve said to them, there are four things that you should be able to no matter what in a game. You should be able to control your effort and energy. You should be able to control your rebounding pursuit, your physicality, your attack of the glass. You should be able to control how hard and fast you run, and you should be able to control your movement without the ball. That’s kind of what the game brought. Did we hit every one of those aspects? No, but we did defend. We did rebound. For the most part, we ran and pushed it, and we found a way to win the game. All of these games are so important for learning how to win in different ways, and tonight was certainly different from any game that we’ve played up to this point. It was a great way to find a way to win it”

On the defense…

“That’s the maturity when you have older guys. We had some guys tonight that let their lack of offense affect their defense, and we had to get them in and out of the game. For the most part, the older guys and Toumani [Camara] did a really good job of that. That’s Mikal Starks. That’s what we have to have. Sahvir [Wheeler] kept guarding, kept pushing, kept doing those types of things. We had to play him time and score a little bit with the foul issues. Bottom line is that a really good sign of future maturity is when it’s not going great for you personally offensively or we’re not scoring the way we want to, but we’re still coming down and putting stops together, getting deflections, and eliminating the one shot. That’s important stuff.”

On Andrew Garcia…

“Maturity. Wanting to win. He’s coming off the bench right now, but he’s a starter to me, and as I’ve said before, we’re going to change this lineup. I could change it by Saturday, and we’ll see. Andrew [Garcia] is a key guy, and he epitomizes doing what it takes to win, playing to his strengths. He’s getting better at other aspects of the game. He’s playing at a very competitive, high level, and he makes everyone else better. I think he brings comfort because I think people know that he’s going to attack the glass. He’s going to be able to score inside. He’s certainly getting better as a shooter, and those types of things will come. He’s just playing to win the game, and I think that’s a great indication of leadership from him for us. What we need him to do, and I just said this to him after the game, is to be more vocal and verbal with his teammates during the game and be a little bit more demanding. Now four games in, he needs to be a little bit more comfortable doing that hopefully.”

On challenging Toumani Camara and his presence in the game…

“There’s no question, and I think he knows that. I think he’s an example of game one, and we just talked about this before he left here. Game one he came out with a scoring mindset, he didn’t play very well. The last three games he’s come out with an attack mindset, and he’s played extremely well. I think he has had three straight games of double figure deflections, including having 16 tonight, he had 11 at half. He is very, very active. When you come out active, when you come out aggressive, when you come out letting the game come to you offensively, but taking your attack mindset to the game defensively, rebounding the ball with running, good things usually are going to happen. It just takes guys, I am glad he is figuring it out and that doesn’t mean he’s not going to have a tough night at some point, but the bottom line is when you play the game the right way, with the right intent and you’re not worried about your offense and you’re not worried about your shooting. You’re not worried about where you’re getting the ball, if you’re getting the ball. You play well. You know when you allow yourself to get distracted, I always say to guys you’re seeing ghosts, ‘Don’t see a ghost just play the game. You know when you’re missing shots or it’s not going your way.’ We just have to grow through that and Toumani is a great example of someone who is growing through that. Christian Brown’s situation is where we are at in the 2021 season right now. He didn’t feel good at half time, right away it became we have to isolate, we have to get him tested, and it was a judgement call made by our doctor and our trainer to say that he’s not available. He is either tested already or he is testing now, I don’t have the results yet, but either way we will just see how it goes and hope that he is going to be okay.”

On the next week’s practice…

“We have to take a day off each week. So, we will do that and then we will prepare for Sanford. But it is really important that Toumani [Camara] rebound the ball. It is very important that he is aggressive and attack. We do need those types of things, and we need it from a lot of people. I have said it to this team every day, ‘We are only going to be as good as our team rebounding, our team defense and our team rebounding. We have to run and put pressure on the rim. We are going to shoot three’s, but we are not going to shoot three’s just because they are there. We are going to shoot them because we are inside and have gone through the paint and all those types of things.’ So, that is really what we want to continue to build for as we get ready for the next game. Hopefully, they’ll rest up some and get ready to roll.”

On how important ‘energy plays’ are to the team..

“Well, I think it says a lot. That is the way we are. We have to be a collective unit. There are not one or two or three guys that are just going to carry this load every night, and we are going to watch them do it. It has to be a team deal. We have to be able to get into our bench and get pressure going from the bench. That is all important. We just all need to get more consistent. The guys need to get more consistent. The bottom line is, when you make good hustle plays your team should be very excited about it. I thought for the most part we did. We don’t want to let the social distancing on the bench, or the masks keep us from having tremendous verbal energy and excitement throughout the game. I think the teams that handle that the best will be victorious. It is definitely hard to have it be different. We are very fortunate to be able to play these games. We have to continue to get that across to them that you don’t want to waste one moment when it comes to that. You cannot take it for granted, you never know what is coming the next day. For example, Christian Brown was playing fine and all of a sudden, he doesn’t feel as good during half-time, and we have to shut him down for the rest of the game. That has now become the new reality for everyone. The main reality is to enjoy what you are doing to the fullest and enjoy doing it with your teammates and make them better in every possible way.”

***Shortly after the completion of Coach Crean’s interview session it was announced that Christian Brown underwent a COVID test at the arena which came back negative.

On Camara’s performance 

“I think that’s important; I think like I’ve said, we’ve got to get it from a lot of different people. This was a good game to have to fight through because they didn’t guard Sahvir [Wheeler] as much. They packed the paint. They made it a little bit tougher. So, that makes you have to cut a little harder, post a little deeper, screen a little bit better, be ready to shoot, all those types of things. We don’t want to let the defense dictate our activity and our movement. There were times it did tonight but for the most part, we still moved, we just did not make as many shots. I thought Toumani did a great job being active.”

On Sahvir Wheeler’s game 

“Don’t worry about your offense. It’s all about figuring out the game and you can’t get quiet. He played really hard, but he got a little quiet tonight, and we can’t have that. When you are an energy source and the team feels protected and safe when you are out there, you have to continue to exude that confidence constantly. You do go through it; you have to go through it. But at the end of the day, you have got to understand that whatever you are doing to impact winning is by far the most important thing. So, you point those things out that impacted winning, you try to help him. He’s going to be a fine shooter; I’m not worried about that at all. Teams want to go under on the pick and roll, great, we will run riffles, which are re-screens, or we will do different things like that. You can’t go under twice, it’s not that big of a deal. The other thing we got to get him to understand is to continue to get the ball back the second and third time. That becomes part of the process when the ball sits a little bit, and it’s not moving quickly, and we are not cutting without it as well. That effects everybody and that’s just part of it. We’ll review that in film, we will get back to practice, and we will get ready to go with it on Saturday and try to be better no matter what defense we see from Samford.”

#10 Toumani Camara | Sophomore

On his rebounding performance…

“I got to do anything I [could] to help my team, and that’s I think a collective job on everybody’s got to rebound. So, I think that was a big thing for me this game too be really focused on rebounding. Especially the last three games, I haven’t been doing my best at it so it is really something I need to focus on every game, and today, I guess was just a good day about it, and just need to keep rolling and keep it up.”

On his energy and keeping it up with limited fan capacity… 

“It is the fact, that we can win this game if we just stay focused on it and think about winning. Don’t let up. My teammates also help me—motivate me by making good plays, Sahvir [Wheeler] making good plays, the whole team making good plays. So, at the end of the day it is a team sport, so I cannot just lay down, and relax because I have four other dudes relying on me on the court and a whole bench that needs me. Having my energy up every time is something, I think is very important in my game.”

On his comfort handling the ball in transition and what it says about having five guys who can play with the ball… 

“I feel really confident with the ball. It is something I worked on this summer, because last year I had a lot of improvement to make. I think having a team with five players that can handle the ball and be able to push it makes it easier for the point guard—for everybody—to just be able to push the ball and go. That is how fast we can be. I think it is a really rare thing you can see in basketball when everybody can handle it. So, I think it is a really good thing for us.”

On his double-double… 

“Like I said last time, every time somebody different goes out there and game—it was maybe not Sahvir’s [Wheeler] game from the assist part but as a collective unit I still think we try to do the best we can. So, if Sahvir cannot achieve this part than we need to pick it up on our side. It is a team sport so we cannot not let all the work fall on Sahvir’s shoulders. I think it is something we pick up naturally.”

On his work over the summer and the difference in the game… 

“Rebounding is a really had thing to work on. I think rebounding is mostly energy and how can you read your defender boxing you out. If everyone is going to rebound, it is going to be easier to only have one man to beat. That’s a thing that’s a team job. I believe it is just energy and going to get it—like who wants it more, and just staying focused and having the same energy all the time, being able to help my teammates in any kind of situation and be able to keep my energy at 100 percent.”

On not letting offensive struggles effect defense… 

“I believe we are a completely different team than last year. I believe defensively, we can have a great game every time. It’s just offensively, sometimes we are going to have some games where shots are not going to fall, and we need to be focused on team play. I think that is the main thing we need to work on as a team—playing collectively as a team and stay focused on that and try not to make all on one play. I believe it is all about energy. If you have the energy and if you have the will to play defense every time it is something that is going to stay. If we have this anger and have this willingness to play defense every day, we will be able to have a good defensive game.”

On what the team learned about themselves tonight… 

“Like I said, we need to play more collectively. But, that is something we are going to pick up. It is really like keep up the energy and uplift each other throughout the game and stay focused on all the time.”

On his play with Andrew Garcia… 

“We are a really close team. I mean we are like a family, so especially since I don’t have my family here with me in town. Being able to have this guy around me is a blessing and just having him, he is a cool dude. We always have a good chemistry. I have a good chemistry with the whole team, basically.”

#4 Andrew Garcia | Graduate Student

On how he was able to attempt so many free throws tonight…

“I try to use my aggressiveness. Coach Crean always puts me in a lot of positions to duck in, punch in, and get good position to use my strength throughout the whole game to wear their big men out. Shoutout to Sahvir [Wheeler], Justin [Kier], and the rest of the guards for looking for me.”

On what must be done when the team is struggling from the perimeter…

“Even if shots are not falling, we still have to continue our pace. Coach Crean always emphasizes to keep pushing the ball, run the floor, and try to get those easy baskets while the defense is running back. We have to stay together because sometimes we want to get out of ourselves. We had it going pretty early and when you get it going early, you tend to try to get your own stuff. So, he said to keep being a collective team and stay together throughout the whole game.”

On the role experienced players have when the other team is on a run…

“Our role is to do the dirty work: get those rebounds, stay solid defensively, pick everybody out, and run the floor so that everybody can see that and continue that. We don’t want to fall short or get lazy and get out of our M.O., which is always playing at a fast pace. Us leaders have to continue to bring everybody out, bring everybody’s spirits up, and lead by that example.”

On feeding off of Toumani Camara’s 17 rebounds…

“It’s huge. Those second-chance points are really what held us down. A lot of times we got to the paint and a lot of us didn’t crash the boards, but Toumani’s continuous effort throughout the whole game showed. He got to the line, he finished those put-backs, and that’s what we really need consistently throughout the year.”

On the health of his ankle and the different pace that tonight’s game was played at…

“I just nicked it [his ankle] a little bit when I came down in the first half. I’ll be fine, it’s just a little bruise. But, we want to play at that fast pace. Our motto is to wear teams down and still be that fast-paced team with 15 minutes left in the second half to pull away like we did last game. Obviously, tonight’s pace was different, but it was always the pace that Coach Crean wanted us to play at. We have to continue to be ready to stay at the pace of Sahvir [Wheeler] because he is the focal point, Sahvir and Mikal [Starks]. We just want to keep on running down the court, both on the offensive and defensive end.”

On his comfort level coming off the bench and not starting… 

”Anything that Coach Crean puts me in, I’m willing to do. I value winning more than anything and the more we win, the more success that everybody gets as a whole. So, I’m not worried about starting, I’m just worried about however I can help this team and just put my body out there to work.”

On his role playing next to Camara… 

”We try to just come together and abuse that (their play styles) and play to our strengths. Toumani is incredibly athletic and you’ll see him all over the floor. I just try to use my strength and wear down their big men with my speed to run down the court for easy buckets. In those two aspects, we try to get as easy of possessions on the offensive end as we can during the game.”

On the greatest challenge that Montana posed tonight… 

”I would say that they made some shots. They are a very good team that runs their offense the best of any team that we have faced this year. I feel like this was the first time that we got challenged as a team by another team that can run their offense fluidly. A lot of times they were getting their cross screens with us getting down there and matching up, so I think that’s what it was.”

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