Well, Georgia won’t go undefeated in the SEC this year after all.
The Bulldogs arrived at Florida on Tuesday as the most surprising of the SEC’s four unbeaten teams in conference play. But the No. 7-ranked Gators took care of that in decisive fashion Tuesday night at the O’Connell Center. They won for the 25th consecutive time in the old building, a school record. The final score was 72-50.
It was the 12th consecutive home-court win over Georgia for the Gators (14-2, 3-0 SEC). Michael Frazier led four Florida players in double figures with 21 points on five 3-pointers. Dorian Finney-Smith added 14.
Juwan Parker led Georgia (8-7, 2-1) with 13 and Marcus Thornton added 11. The Bulldogs play host to Arkansas on Saturday at 1:30 p.m.
The thought was Georgia had proven it could stand up to an intense road atmosphere when it knocked off then-No. 21 Missouri last Wednesday in Columbia. But the Bulldogs wilted under Florida’s full-court pressure. Twelve of their 15 turnovers came in the first half, including five by point guard Charles Mann.
“They had no answer for us in the first half,” said Florida forward Will Yeguete, who scored 12 points.
The game started well enough for Georgia. The Bulldogs played the hard-pressing Gators to a 6-6 tie over the opening five minutes. But after the first media timeout, the wheels came off for the black-clad visitors.
By the time halftime mercilessly arrived, Georgia was staring at a 36-16 deficit. And getting there was a horrific sight.
The Bulldogs committed 12 turnovers, with Florida scoring 24 points off those turnovers. The Gators scored 24 of their points in the paint, and Georgia shot 31 percent from the field. Mann, who scored 40 points in the past two games to earn SEC player-of-the-week honors, scored one point in the first half.
“We lost our poise,” said Thornton, “We made some very immature plays. That put us behind the 8-ball and when that happens at a place like Florida they can crush you quickly.”
It was quick. After the 14:25 first-half media timeout, the Gators reeled off 11 unanswered points in 3 minutes, 37 seconds. Georgia coach Mark Fox, exasperated by his players’ lack of poise, called the first of several timeouts to try to call the troops.
“We played the first four or five minutes pretty well, but they just whipped us after that,” Fox said. “We made such poor decisions at the back end of the press. Then we got rattled and lost our composure and that’s when the game was decided.”
There was a brief span in the second half when the Bulldogs had a chance to make it a game. Thornton’s layup at the 11:35 mark cut the Gators’ advantage to 14 points, and Georgia had back-to-back opportunities to slice into it further.
But Kenny Gaines could not convert a driving layup, and Donte’ Williams could not tip in the rebound. Gaines missed another layup attempt as he was moving too fast on a break the next time down the court.
“We had a little run going in the second half and we missed three real close layups,” said Mann, who had eight points on 3-of-7 shooting. “That could have made it a 10-point game, but we just didn’t finish it.”
Florida finally regained control by making four free throws on its next two possessions. Later, Frazier, the SEC’s leading 3-point shooter, heated up. He made three 3-pointers in four possessions, and the Gators made six in a row to blow the game open.
“We’re going to watch this tape and see how poorly we played and learn from it, because we did not play well,” Fox said. “Florida put it on us. We have to learn why that happened, see the mistakes we made and work to correct them.”