Georgia tops Samford, 79-75, in thriller
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Georgia tops Samford, 79-75, in thriller

Georgia-Samford
Photo: Tony Walsh/UGA

ATHENS, Ga – Despite trailing for nearly the entire game, the University of Georgia men’s basketball team outlasted the Samford Bulldogs, 79-75, Saturday evening in front of 1,638 fans at Stegeman Coliseum. The Bulldogs (5-0) only led for 46 seconds Saturday, but a strong second half led by sophomore Sahvir Wheeler and junior Tye Fagan helped hold off a game Samford squad (2-2).

Graduate Justin Kier led Georgia with a season-high 18 points on 6-for-12 shooting, including 4-for-9 from beyond the arc. Wheeler and Fagan each pitched in 15 points, with Wheeler also leading the Bulldogs with six assists and Fagan tying for the team lead with seven rebounds. Graduates Andrew Garcia and P.J. Horne also tallied double-digit scoring performances with 11 and 10 points, respectively. Georgia only shot 43 percent from the field for the game, but improved to 50 percent in the second half and outrebounded Samford, 46-38, for the game.

For Samford, redshirt senior guard Myron Gordon turned in a career night off the bench with 29 points on 9-for-14 shooting, including four 3-pointers.

“That’s a character win,” said head coach Tom Crean following the game. “(Samford is) a highly confident group. They’ve been on the road. They shoot the three. The bottom line is we had a character win against a good team that is fearless shooting that ball and we did it without our leading scorer.”

Samford opened the game firing, quickly building a 9-5 lead heading into the first media timeout, although a 3-pointer from Kier helped halt the momentum. Samford maintained its pace after the break with a 15-4 run powered by its strong play on the boards.

Fagan finally broke a four-minute scoring drought for Georgia with a layup, kickstarting a scoring burst that ate into the Samford margin heading into the last media timeout of the half. Samford responded with two quick baskets, but back-to-back 3-pointers from Wheeler and Kier narrowed the deficit to five with just over two minutes remaining. After a free throw with two-tenths of a second left, Georgia entered the locker room trailing, 35-31.

As he did in the Jacksonville game, Fagan started the second half on a hot streak, scoring Georgia’s first five points of the period, but a pair of 3-pointers kept Samford out in front. Taking advantage of a prolonged field goal drought by Samford, a corner 3-pointer from Horne closed the score to 49-46 with under 12 minutes to go. Samford was able to finally break its skid with a pair of treys, but Georgia responded with two of its own as Kier brought the Bulldogs to within one.

Both teams continued to answer each other as the contest began to wind down with Wheeler piloting the Bulldogs’ transition game. Nonetheless, Samford continued to counter as Gordon connected on a 3-pointer following a Wheeler lay-in that tied the game for the first time since the opening tip.

Sophomore Jaxon Etter finally gave Georgia its first lead of the evening with a layup at the 1:17 mark, but once again, Gordon knotted it with a drive on the other end. Despite earlier troubles, Georgia would eventually clinch the game at the foul line, with Horne putting back a missed free throw to build a game-high five-point lead. Following a final Samford layup, Wheeler dribbled out the final second to seal the victory.

“I’m not sure our guys understood just how fast they were going to come at us, and it stunned them a little bit,” said Crean. “I was fully aware because I’ve watched (Samford head coach) Bucky (McMillan) coach for many years. They come at you and he’s going to win a lot of games there. It was a good lesson for us and I’m glad we got the win.”

Georgia returns to the court next weekend as it plays host to the Cincinnati Bearcats on Saturday, Dec. 19 at Stegeman Coliseum. The non-conference matchup is set for an 8 p.m. tip time and will be broadcast on an outlet to be named later.

POST-GAME NOTES

• Georgia improves to 5-0 on the season, the Bulldogs’ best start since 2001-02.

• The Bulldogs of Georgia won the only other previous meeting with the Bulldogs of Samford, a 61-55 decision on Nov. 26, 2001 at Stegeman Coliseum. This same season was the last time that Georgia started 5-0 with Samford as the fourth game.

• With tonight’s win, Georgia improves to 86-66 all-time against teams with Bulldog mascots. Samford is one of two such matchups this season for Georgia, who went 1-1 last season against other Bulldog teams (The Citadel, Mississippi State).

• Graduate transfer Justin Kier scored his most points in Red and Black tonight with 18. This was also Kier’s third double-digit game of the season and 54th of his career.

• Junior Tye Fagan notched his third double-digit game of the season and sixth of his career. Fagan also posted his season high assists with three.

• Graduate transfer P.J. Horne scored his fourth double-figure game of the season and 18th of his career. Horne also picked up his most blocks as a Bulldog with 2.

• Sophomore Sahvir Wheeler had his fourth double-digit game of the season and 15th of his career.

• Graduate transfer Andrew Garcia scored his third double-digit game of the season and and 43rd of his career. Garcia had three steals which is his most as a Bulldog this season.

• Kier leads the team with minutes played averaging 32 and played in 35 minutes in tonight’s matchup. His teammate Sophomore Jaxon Etter played for a career high four minutes, where he was able to notch his first career assist.

• Georgia won the rebound game in all three facets. Total rebounds S: 38/ UGA: 46, defensive rebounds S: 27/ UGA: 31, and offensive rebounds S: 11/ UGA: 15.

POST-GAME QUOTES

GEORGIA HEAD COACH TOM CREAN

On tonight’s game…

“We changed the rebounds—we were down five at half on the boards and we outrebounded them by 13 in the second half. Huge step for us, and I said to the team after the game, that’s a character win. That’s a character win. They’re a highly confident group. They’ve been on the road. They shoot the three. Bucky’s (McMillan) doing a tremendous
job. He’s playing a lot of guys and we went out there without our leading scorer and rebounder and deflection man and had to figure it out. And we did with some key contributions from guys—putting Jaxon Etter in late in the game after what he did in the first half. He only made one bucket, but it was a big one on that pass from Tye Fagan. Justin
Kier’s two threes—coming down and getting stops. We had three stops in a row seven times in the game, which is huge. We need to get them a little more in the heat of the game, but those are big when you can get that. We didn’t shoot the free throws well, but we got to the line 32 times and that’s what the game was giving us. There were some
adjustments that we made, and some that I look back at now and wish I would’ve have made even sooner. The bottom line is we had a character win against a good team that is fearless shooting that ball and we did it without our leading scorer.”

On making “winning plays” without Toumani Camara…

“We didn’t play great basketball by any stretch. But we found a way to do that. Toumani’s (Camara) out, but he wasn’t the only one who was banged up this week. We had some guys that gutted it out—didn’t play great, but gutted it out and did a good job in there. Now, we go to our exams even more than what we already have and we get
ourselves ready for a really, really good Cincinnati team that had a great battle today at Tennessee.”

On improving before next Saturday’s game against Cincinnati…

“We have to get better this week. As I just said to them, we have to become physical, more aggressive. We didn’t do a great job on the 50-50 balls tonight—at times, they were more aggressive on those. When you shoot that many threes, there’s going to be a lot of long rebounds and there were times that we didn’t look like we had ever blocked
out. But then we figured it out, we got it back. I’m not sure our guys understood just how fast they were going to come at us, and it stunned them a little bit. I was fully aware because I’ve watched Bucky coach for many years. They come at you and he’s going to win a lot of games there. It was a good lesson for us and I’m glad we got the win.”

On the environment at Stegeman Coliseum…

“I just want to thank everybody with game management. It was loud in there tonight. My whole goal, and I know it’s a very high goal, is somehow how do we make it sound like there’s 10,000 people in there when there’s only 1,800 or 1,900 people in there. The music and the energy of the fans…game management, they did a fantastic job. Our
DJ did a great job and I just can’t thank the fans and the students enough for being out there and supporting us like that. We could hear them. Again, the most important thing is when you can hear somebody, can you feel them? I think that’s exactly what we were getting tonight. I know there’s not many people in there, but we need every person
that can get in there to be at their most vocal, high-octane, high-output self that they can possibly be. I’m going to say: I think the fans gave us energy tonight at the end of the game because they never got down on us when we weren’t playing well and they understood there’s no Toumani—he’s down there at the end of the bench—and they stayed with us. They really elevated our play at the end.”

GEORGIA GRADUATE TRANSFER JUSTIN KIER

On the role experienced players have in a game that starts slow…

“That’s a tough team. That’s a great team. They’re really well-coached, so it just shows that we have maturity on this team. That’s a tough team who, off the jump, started making shots. When you’re down that entire game, you really have to dig a little deeper on the defensive end to try and get stops when shots aren’t falling. I think our guys
responded really well down the stretch and didn’t let up. When they’re playing that hard the entire game and not hitting any shots, it’s hard to keep that composure on defense. I think we did a great job of that, and I think it shows that we can be really special. I think that this team can be really special. We use a lot of guys, the whole entire team, and we buy in every single day. We just have to come in every day to work.”

On how this team will react when the schedule gets tougher…

“I think the way that different teams scout us has been good for us because we see a lot of different looks. As you guys see, Sahvir [Wheeler] is always on the ball and they’re trying to get him off the ball because of how fast he is. I think he’s adjusting pretty well to what teams are throwing at him, and I believe that we have to continue to listen to what our coaches tell us, like what they think the defenses will do. We just have to continue to get better every single day.”

On his back-to-back three pointers and the play of Jaxon Etter…

“To me, that was the greatest play of this season because we know how hard Jaxon works every single night. He’s really one of the biggest backbones that we have on this team. He comes every single day not knowing how many minutes he’s going to play and competes with us at a high level. With those back-to-back threes, that’s just my teammates finding me in great spots. Sahvir and Tye Fagan, them finding me and just having the confidence to knock them down after I missed a couple in the first half and the beginning of the second half. But they responded well, Samford is a good team and they responded. They didn’t get down when we started to make our run, so that showed
our maturity where we had to lock in and get stops towards the end.”

GEORGIA SOPHOMORE SAHVIR WHEELER

On keeping his composure after a slow first half…

“I look at the basketball, especially college ball, as a game of two halves. Going into halftime, I credit my teammates. I still have confidence in myself, but I think those guys really empowered me. They told me, ‘Don’t even worry about it, it’s a new half, zero-zero, new game.’ I stayed confident, tried to knock some shots down, tried to get some guys going like Justin [Kier] and P.J. [Horne] and Tye Fagan got it going a little bit. We’re such a balanced team. When one person isn’t as good as they usually are, another person can step in right away. That’s how we are and that’s that. I give all the credit to my teammates.”

On the team this year, compared to last…

“I just think this group of guys, we know what it takes to win. We tried it, not necessarily our own way, but we tried last year, we were a little defiant. I think this year we’ve really bought into what Coach Crean says and the staff, Coach [Steve] McClain and the rest of the staff have done a great job of setting the standard from day one when we
came in this summer. I think also having the guys who are experienced like the graduate transfers and the junior college guys, they come in with a learning attitude and a winning attitude. Us just adopting that and putting it together is really helping us this year.”

On what he was thinking while at the free throw line tied at 73…

“To be honest, the first thing I was thinking about was, ‘Man I need to make these, I missed a couple throughout the game.’ I just remained calm, remained confident. I think that’s what it is, that’s what the game of basketball is. I’ve known and prepared for that moment probably more than anyone in the country. I work as hard as anyone, or even
more than everyone in the country. I have a routine, I stick to it, I’m confident. That’s the stuff you want to be in as a player. You don’t want to necessarily be in those crunch games where you have to make a couple of free throws to solidify the win, but those are plays—I mean, you do want to be in them, but not really. I was really fortunate to make
those two free throws and give us the lead and help us stick out that win.”

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