Free throws send Georgia basketball team to a 32-year low

semerson@macon.comDecember 15, 2012 

ATHENS -- The free throws kept clanging off the rim, and at every key turn, they proved to be a perfect metaphor for a Georgia basketball team whose season has quickly careened the wrong way.

Iona became the latest small school team to get a road win this season at Georgia, joining the likes of Youngstown State and Southern Miss. This time the Bulldogs fell 81-78 in overtime, and at 2-7 this is the program’s worst nine-game start since 1970.

“I’m sick of losing, as our team is, but we’ve gotta play basketball,” head coach Mark Fox said.

The Bulldogs lost this game at the line, especially down the stretch: Georgia was 16-for-33 in the second half and overtime, including 6-for-15 in overtime. And the blame was spread out: Nemanja Djurisic missed a free throw that would have tied the game with three seconds left in overtime. Brandon Morris missed two free throws when Georgia led by three with 71 seconds left. Charles Mann missed a plethora in overtime. And even the sure-handed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had missed two on one trip to the line in overtime.

Morris admitted the misses felt contagious.

“We were missing free throws in abundance, which really played a toll on the game,” Morris said. “We’ve been practicing free throws -- we’ve been practicing every day in practice.”

“You know, I think we’ve shot over 6,000 free throws in practice,” Fox said. “And we’re shooting over 75 percent. We haven’t transferred that to a game. That is extremely frustrating.”

The bright side for Georgia was the play of its freshmen, necessitated in part by forward Marcus Thornton missing the game with knee problems. Mann had a career-high 18 points and seven rebounds, Morris had 12 points and seven rebounds, and Kenny Gaines (six points) hit a big shot in the final minute of regulation.

Georgia also did a good job rallying from a 12-point first-half deficit, leading by as many as seven in the second half. As Fox pointed out, simply one made free throw would have made the story different.

But in the end. Georgia still ended up losing to an Iona team that -- although it made it to the NCAA tournament last year -- was only off to a 3-4 start this season.

“We’re off to a worse start than I anticipated,” Fox said. “I still like our team. We’re not playing complete enough to win. But (on Saturday) – there’s prep schools that played older lineups than we had out there. We’re still making some young plays.

“But it’s a disappointing start, there’s no way around that. It’s my job to get us to win some games. We haven’t done that yet, but I like our team – and I told them that tonight, that I still like our team. We just gotta make a couple more steps forward.”

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