The Georgia Bulldogs suddenly look as if they may be a factor in the SEC.
It’s early yet, but the Bulldogs (9-7) improved to 3-1 in conference play Saturday with a gutsy 66-61 win over Arkansas in overtime. Georgia managed the victory despite shooting only 31 percent from field and getting three points in regulation from Charles Mann, who leads the team in scoring.
The Bulldogs did it with defense and rebounding. They dominated the boards 56-34 and held Arkansas to nearly 23 points below its scoring average of 84.7 points. The Razorbacks (12-5, 1-3) were coming off a dramatic overtime win over Kentucky in Fayetteville on Tuesday.
“We beat a really good Arkansas team,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. “We should feel like we accomplished something today. It was a hard-fought, SEC slugfest.”
The Bulldogs were paced by guard Kenny Gaines with 15 points, and forward Marcus Thornton added 11 points and 13 rebounds. Georgia went to the free-throw line 39 times (to Arkansas’ 20) and made 28 (71.8 percent).
“We just got the dirty work done,” said Thornton, who recorded the first double-double of his career and the first for the Bulldogs this season. “We went down in the trenches and got the work done. That’s what gave us a chance to win the game.”
Mann, saddled with foul trouble throughout the game, played 11 minutes in the first half and sat out the final 5:13 of regulation after drawing his fourth foul. In both cases freshman J.J. Frazier came off the bench to relieve him. And though Frazier was 0-for-6 from the field, he made 5 of 6 free throws, pulled down four rebounds and had an assist and zero turnovers.
“He came up huge,” said Mann, who scored six points while playing every minute of overtime. “He’s a great player. His number was called, and he came out and delivered and helped us.”
After Mann committed his fourth foul and left the game, Fox had numerous opportunities to put him back on the floor with the game on the line in the waning minutes. But he stuck with Frazier.
“J.J. was playing well, so we decided to leave him in the game,” Fox said. “We trust him, and he did a nice job. Obviously in the overtime we went back to Charles and his experience. He had a chance to gather himself and finished well.”
Arkansas got 13 points from Coty Clarke and 12 apiece from Rashad Madden and Fred Gulley. The Razorbacks fall to 2-20 in road games under third-year coach Mike Anderson and 0-2 in SEC this season. It was their third consecutive overtime game and second OT loss.
The Bulldogs trailed by as many as seven points in the second half, but fought back to tie the score at 52-52 at the end of regulation.
Gaines nailed a 3-pointer from the left wing 19 seconds into overtime. That was followed by two defensive stops, then a free throw and a three-point play from Mann for a 59-52 lead with 2:22 to go. That provided the cushion the Bulldogs would need to close the game from the free-throw line.
“You always want to come out with the first blow in overtime,” Gaines said of his 3-pointer. “That was a good confidence booster for the rest of the team.”
If the Bulldogs take care of business Wednesday at home against South Carolina (7-10, 0-4 SEC), they’ll take a 4-1 conference record to Kentucky next weekend.
“We’re where we want to be,” Mann said of the 3-1 league start. “We just want to keep on doing what we’re doing and stay in the upper half of the SEC. But we’ve got to flush this one and focus on the next one.”