BATON ROUGE, La. — After Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines turned in their latest memorable performances, the celebratory reactions of the Georgia Bulldogs could be heard through the door to the visitors’ locker room at LSU’s Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
The Bulldogs didn’t need to beat the Tigers to secure a top-four seed and coveted double-bye in this week’s SEC tournament, but their motivation was more personal than that, and it showed Saturday.
Mann had 22 points and 10 rebounds, Gaines buried six of seven 3-point attempts on his way to 20 points, and Georgia took home 69-61 triumph that spoiled LSU’s senior day.
“What our guys are excited about is we tied for second place in the league, and not very many people outside of that room believed that was going to happen,” Georgia head coach Mark Fox said.
Indeed, Georgia was picked to finish 11th out of 14 teams in the SEC’s preseason poll. Instead, the Bulldogs (18-12, 12-6 SEC) racked up their most conference victories since the 13 they amassed in 1990.
“They’ve been very committed to the process, and so I think they’re just excited that they’ve had some success,” Fox said of his players.
Although Georgia finished tied with Kentucky in the conference standings, the Wildcats won the head-to-head tiebreaker to earn the second seed in the tournament in Atlanta. Still, Georgia is looking strong after winning four of its past five.
“We are a really confident team,” Mann said. “We believe in each other and the system.”
Senior guard Andre Stringer led LSU (18-12, 9-9) with 22 points in his final home game.
“Senior day was an important day, but I was more concerned with my team and moving forward and getting a win before the SEC tournament,” Stringer said. “We can’t do anything about it now. We have to put it behind us and move on.”
LSU freshman Jarell Martin added 13 points for the Tigers, but Georgia limited LSU leading scorer Johnny O’Bryant III to five points — about 11 points below his average — while snapping the Tigers’ seven-game home winning streak.
“We were double-teaming him. We kept him guessing,” Mann said. “On the offensive end, we just wanted to be aggressive and get him in foul trouble.”
And they did. O’Bryant was called for his third foul less than two minutes into the second half and committed his fourth foul with 6:30 left.
LSU will be the seventh seed in the SEC tournament and get a first-round bye before opening Thursday night against No. 10 seed Alabama. Georgia won’t play until Friday night.
With about 14 minutes left at LSU, the Bulldogs opened up a 12-point lead when Nemanja Djurisic spun out of a nifty post-up move for an easy layup that made it 47-35. The basket capped a 9-0 run comprised of Djurisic’s first three baskets of the game and Gaines’ 3.
LSU responded with seven straight points, highlighted by senior Shavon Coleman’s 3, to trim it back to 47-42. But Georgia’s Donte Williams snapped the run with a dunk in transition and LSU never got closer than five points again.
Georgia dominated in some key statistical categories, outshooting LSU 47.9 percent (23 of 48) to 36.4 percent (20 of 55) and outrebounding the Tigers 37-29.
“They made some deep shots. I mean, they made some NBA-type 3s,” LSU head coach Johnny Jones said of the Bulldogs. “They shot a high percentage, and that’s hard to overcome.”