ATHENS - It was impossible not to think about it, as Georgia head coach Mark Fox admitted afterward. This had been planned a long time ago, but the timing made for a unique scene.
Georgia invited about 4,000 local elementary school kids to its home men's basketball game on Tuesday, and moved tip-off all the way to 11:30 a.m. to accommodate them. They added some much-needed atmosphere at Stegeman Coliseum.
The school-kids were a boisterous bunch, cheering well before tip, and then erupting when the game's first points were scored by Georgia's Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, on a fast-break dunk. It continued that way until the kids were slowly escorted out by their teachers, near the end of Georgia's 68-59 win over Mercer.
"With what happened in Connecticut, you can't look at those kids without ..." Fox said, stopping a second. "I mean I've got kids that go to elementary school. I can't imagine what some of those families are going through. And so often in this country we lose sight of the things that are most important. ...
"So today did feel different. And I hope those kids had a good time. Because they certainly added a lot of energy to the building."
Hearing the shouting from the school-kids before the game, freshman guard Kenny Gaines said he told senior teammate Vincent Williams he "kind of felt a little joyful."
"It kind of just reminded me of my own childhood," Gaines said. "It felt good playing in front of little kids, and giving them a nice little show."
Freshman guard Charles Mann echoed his coach, that the events of last week was on his mind.
"It touched our hearts when we heard it happened," Mann said, adding that they wanted to get the win for the kids. "We're not used to that type of crowd. But it was real pleasant. Especially for the kids, and what happened (in Connecticut), it was real good."
Awkward transition time: Georgia got the win to end a three-game losing skid, and improve to 3-7. Given the team's recent home losses (to Iona, Southern Miss and Youngstown State) getting a win over a solid Mercer team was far from a given.
Georgia led by six after a sloppy first half, in which the teams combined for 19 turnovers. Then Mercer scored the first seven points of the second half, re-taking the lead as Georgia airballed a 3 and hit the side of the backboard on a hook shot.
The Bulldogs recovered, however, going on a run: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope stroked a 3, and Sherrard Brantley hit consecutive 3s to make it 39-31.
At the 3:30 mark, Caldwell-Pope stole a pass near midcourt. His runner on the other end missed, but a trailing Charles Mann slammed it home. That pushed Georgia to a 10-point lead.
That just about sealed it, as Georgia hit its free throws down the stretch - unlike in Saturday's loss to Iona.
"We beat a really good basketball team today," Fox said, then thanked Hoffman for agreeing to play the early game. "Not many coaches would agree to that. I have a lot of respect for the way he runs his team, his program. He's a terrific coach, they got a great program, which we respect a great deal."
Georgia's next game is Saturday at home against Southern California.
"We needed a win," Fox said. "Tell you what, we won the game today because we played such a difficult schedule early. We had to be sound for 40 minutes to win this game, because those guys don't make very many mistakes. That's a good team. But under the circumstances it feels good to get a win because our kids needed one."
Gaines (eight points) said the win was good for morale.
"The losing streak has kind of affected us a little bit, but we stayed strong as a team, and we plan on moving on strong," Gaines said.