ATHENS -- Before Saturday, Georgia was clinging to the hope that its young mens basketball team could put things together and avoid a difficult season.
That hope is barely a glimmer now.
Georgia could ill afford to lose at home to Mississippi State, which had just seven healthy scholarship players and entered Saturday with the worst RPI rank in the SEC. But Georgia did lose 72-61 and now finds itself 6-9 overall with a difficult stretch ahead.
I dont think the season is away from us, said head coach Mark Fox, who is now 56-55 in four seasons at Georgia. Were playing uphill, a hole that we dug, and seem to continue -- we refuse to put the shovel away. We can still climb forward.
That will be difficult during the next three games. Georgia plays at No. 10 Missouri on Wednesday, then hosts LSU before getting a visit from No. 11 Florida, which just beat the Bulldogs by 33.
Thats why losing to Mississippi State (now 7-7, 2-0 SEC) stings. For a while Georgia was competitive, leading 30-23 with five minutes left in the first half. But it allowed Mississippi State to rally for a one-point halftime lead.
Then Georgias star player went quiet on offense and got beat on defense. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who scored 14 points in the first half, only scored two in the second half. He didnt even take a shot for the first nine minutes, and in a recurring theme this season, there was no effective supporting cast.
Everybody knows hes the best proven, and the only proven scorer we have, Fox said. And as he comes off the ball screen, and theres two guys there -- I have to give (Mississippi State) credit.
Meanwhile, Mississippi State took control with 3-pointers from Jalen Steele. He hit one from the left side to make it 59-51 with 5:33 left. Then he hit another from the corner to make it an 11-point game.
Steele was Caldwell-Popes man.
I got caught on the screen. It was my fault, Caldwell-Pope said. I didnt fight over the screen. I gave up two 3s.
Fox summed it up by saying, In the second half, they guarded our shooting guard and we didnt guard theirs. We couldnt get Kentavious a good look at the basket. And their shooter got plenty. And that was the difference in the game. Our defense failed us. And weve gotta get somebody else who can score the ball when they took Kentavious away.
Georgia was never able to cut the deficit back under seven, its press stemming the Mississippi State run, but its offense once again unable to take advantage.
The final shooting numbers were ugly for Georgia: 33 percent from the field (19-for-58), 21 percent on 3-pointers (4-for-19) and 59 percent from the free throw line (19-for-32).
Fox called it a disappointing loss several times.
Were gonna have trouble winning every game, Fox said. This team is young. Every game is gonna be a battle for this group. Every game will be a battle. When we had a postseason team, every game was a battle. Two years ago we avoided some close defeats. The margin between winning and losing is very fine, and you make errors like were making defensively -- I love our freshmen, but they make some errors that are very costly.