Georgia’s Charles Mann was named SEC player of the week on Monday and deservedly so. The sophomore point guard scored 40 points in the Bulldogs’ wins over Missouri and Alabama and did much more than that to help his team secure victory.
But just as crucial to the Georgia’s early SEC success has been the play of junior forward Marcus Thornton, though his contributions are considerably more unexpected.
Thornton has battled chronic knee injuries the past three years but finally appears to be healthy and is making a significant impact in the paint for the Bulldogs. He has recorded 14 points, 14 rebounds and eight blocked shots in Georgia’s two SEC games.
“Marcus Thornton deserves success,” coach Mark Fox said after Thornton logged nine points, eight rebounds and five blocks in Georgia’s 66-58 win over Alabama on Saturday. “We don’t win without him. I think he was under-appreciated before with his defense and rebounding. You see how valuable he is.”
The Bulldogs (8-6, 2-0 SEC) will be leaning harder than ever on Thornton and Mann on Tuesday as they venture back out onto the road for another monumental challenge. Last week Georgia stunned No. 21 Missouri with a 70-64 overtime win that snapped the nation’s longest home winning streak at 26 games. This time the task will be to beat No. 7 Florida in Gainesville.
The Gators (13-2, 2-0) are 9-0 at home this season and have beaten the Bulldogs the last 11 times they’ve come to the O’Connell Center.
“Georgia’s playing very, very good basketball and obviously has gotten off to a great start in the league,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said Monday. “They’re doing an exceptional job of rebounding and getting to the free-throw line and executing what they do. So this is a team that’s playing outstanding.”
Thornton is a big reason. The 6-foot-8 former Mr. Basketball from Westlake High has had three knee surgeries (two on one knee) the past three years. The last one, performed around Christmas in 2012, sidelined him for the remainder of the season and resulted in a redshirt.
The Bulldogs sent him to the Butts-Mehre football complex to rehabilitate under the guidance of Ron Courson, UGA’s director of sports medicine. The results have been exceptional.
“That definitely was good for me,” Thornton said of his daily association with the football team. “And being with Ron, he was absolutely instrumental in helping me to getting back to where I’m 100 percent for the most part. I can’t thank him enough.”
Thornton will have a tall task in Gainesville as the Gators feature a big and experienced front line. They will be without senior forward Casey Prather (17.0 ppg) due to a knee bruise, but still have Patric Young, Dorian Finney-Smith, Will Yeguete and plenty other post players.
But having already won at Missouri, what Georgia suddenly has plenty of is belief.
“When you see that and know that it’s possible, you kind of have a blueprint to follow,” Thornton said. “This is definitely a tall test, though.”