ATHENS – There was the now-usual yeoman’s effort from Donte’ Williams, grabbing rebounds, swatting shots and cleaning up misses. There was the now-usual spark off the bench from little J.J. Frazier, drilling 3s.
But the Georgia men’s basketball team needed more. It needed Kenny Gaines. And it got Gaines, just in time.
The sophomore guard, who struggled and was yanked at one point in the first half, caught fire in the second half. The result was another much-needed win for Georgia, which pulled away late to beat Texas A&M, 62-50.
It was the second straight win for Georgia (12-10 overall, 6-4 SEC), which was coming off a home win over LSU, a game the Bulldogs led wire-to-wire. This time the Bulldogs only trailed twice, both times by one point and only briefly.
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That second time, Gaines put Georgia back ahead for good, hitting a 3 with 10 minutes left. Gaines went from scoreless in the first half to 14 points in the second.
“When we came out for warm-ups in the second half I was just telling myself I just need to see the ball go in,” Gaines said. “So I was just trying to get a couple 3s up, to see the ball go in, kinda get my confidence back, and get rolling.”
The win was the 200th career victory for head coach Mark Fox, who 77-73 in five years at Georgia, and 200-116 including his six years at Nevada.
“No, it’s about our team, it’s about our sixth league win,” Fox said, before adding: “Thank you.”
“Nobody knew,” Georgia forward Brandon Morris said. “Nobody was aware of it.”
But they were aware of the importance of this week to their season. After losing three in a row, Georgia got two wins in three days to re-direct things in the right direction. The Bulldogs are again tied for fourth in the SEC, even with LSU and Tennessee.
“In this league you’ve got a lot of teams right behind each other,” Williams said. “You lose one game you may be in eighth place, you win that game you may be in fourth place.”
Williams had an outstanding game, finishing one point away from a double-double (nine points, 10 rebounds.) But his biggest contribution was defense: During a key point in the second half, the senior forward had three blocks in the span of a few minutes, helping Georgia maintain its small lead.
Williams’ burst of defense was spurred on by a word from sophomore Brandon Morris – at least according to Morris – who said he got on him after being scored on a couple times.
“He made some plays early where I said, What is he doing?” Fox said. “Give him credit for slowing down, taking a deep breath, maturing, and making some really big baskets for us.”
“I kind of got in on him and said: “Bro! Block their shots! If they’re calling fouls on your for walling them straight up you might as well get a foul trying to block it!” Morris said. “He took that, and he got mad, and it carried over to the game. He was out there swatting everything left and right.
“I told him he looked like a little Anthony Davis.”
Williams was only credited with three blocks in the stat sheet, but it seemed like more.
“I would say four that I can remember off the top of my head,” Williams said. “It’s all right. I’ll make it up somewhere.
But ultimately Georgia needed someone to put the ball in the hoop. Gaines, and ellow starters Charles Mann and Marcus Thornton did as well. But the Bulldogs led anyway thanks to Frazier – who hit a couple 3s – and the struggles of Texas A&M (13-10 overall, 4-6 SEC).
The Aggies finished the game 1-for-19 from beyond the arc, and leading scorer was 1-for-10. “We couldn’t score and we needed someone to step up and make a shot,” Texas A&M head coach Billy Kennedy said.
In the first half, Gaines missed all four of his shots, and did more wrong than that.
The only real down note for Georgia was an injury. Junior forward Nemanja Djurisic rolled his ankle late in the game and had to be helped off. Fox didn’t know the severity of it.
“I just know it’s an ankle, and we’ll keep our fingers crossed,” Fox said.
Gaines thought his teammate looked fine in the locker room afterwards.
“Nemi’s doing good. He’s walking fine,” Gaines said. “I’m sure he’s gonna get a little bit of treatment tonight, and ice the ankle.”
Georgia next week plays at Mississippi State, then hosts Ole Miss and mercurial star Marshall Henderson.