Georgia struggles, holds off Auburn

semerson@macon.comJanuary 30, 2013 

ATHENS -- It was so ugly at times it was hard to watch. Georgia and Auburn, examples of the mediocrity of SEC men’s basketball, struggled to make 50 percent of their shots … from the free-throw line.

There were more fouls than made field goals. At one point, four minutes went by without either team scoring. At another point, Georgia went the same period without making a field goal -- and still retained a small lead.

That was the kind of game it was, and that was how Georgia was able to win anyway 57-49 on Wednesday thanks to a late flurry of good play from its star sophomore and its freshman point guard.

Afterwards, Georgia head coach Mark Fox compared it to a football game that ended with a 6-3 score.

“It was an ugly game,” he said. “I mean it was so physical. We missed enough free throws to make me go crazy. We fouled 3-point shooters twice. We did things to drive a coach nuts. But both teams were playing so hard, and when you’re playing so hard, it’s hard to play pretty.”

Ugly or not, Georgia (9-11 overall, 3-4 SEC) will take it, considering the way its season has gone. But now the Bulldogs have won three of four -- and in the lone loss, had a halftime lead over No. 4 Florida.

Georgia next plays Saturday at South Carolina, which fell by 39 points on Wednesday night at Florida. So the Bulldogs have a realistic chance to even their SEC record.

“We’re climbing our way up to the ladder. Just taking it game-by-game, getting better,” said Georgia sophomore Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who had a game-high 20 points and nine rebounds.

Auburn (8-12, 2-5) is headed in the opposite direction, having dropped five straight. The Tigers shot 28 percent from the field and cost themselves a lot of points at the free throw line, going 15-for-27.

Then again, Georgia was only 15-for-26, and that includes making its final four.

“We weren’t very good offensively and we weren’t very good defensively,” Auburn head coach Tony Barbee said. “You’re not going to win many games that way.”

Auburn jumped out to a 9-4 lead, spurred by six points by guard Chris Denson. Caldwell-Pope didn’t score until the 10-minute mark, when he drilled a 3 to give the Bulldogs their first lead. He later hit another 3 to ignite an 8-0 run, giving Georgia a 26-20 lead.

But Georgia’s offensive trouble returned, and it couldn’t extend the lead, with Auburn tying it early in the second half.

As the game got uglier and uglier, the frustration began to show. Auburn’s Rob Chubb got an offensive flagrant foul, which gave Georgia’s John Florveus two free throws, which he missed. Georgia’s players became flustered with the officiating.

The game continued to teeter in either team’s direction until Georgia freshman Charles Mann took control. With the game tied, Mann made a driving layup to put Georgia up two. After yet another Auburn miss, which Mann rebounded, he made a nice entry pass to Donte’ Williams, who laid it in while being fouled. His free throw gave Georgia a 48-43 lead with 2:53 left.

Auburn rallied, but Caldwell-Pope came up big again. His follow basket on a fastbreak made it 50-46. On the other end, Auburn turned it over, then fouled Sherrard Brantley, who went 1-for-2 from the line.

“In our last eight halves of basketball, we’ve played winning basketball in seven of them,” Fox said. “We’re becoming more consistent. That doesn’t mean we’re still not making a ton of mistakes. There’s a lot of room to grow here. They just keep battling and keep trying to get better. I’m just really proud of this team.”

Understandably, the sentiment was different in the other locker room.

“We have to play harder, period,” Auburn guard Frankie Sullivan said. “We have to play harder and play smarter.”

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