ATHENS — An awful start. An improbable rally to make it interesting. And in the end, the early hole proved to be too much to overcome.
The final game for the Georgia men’s basketball team was a reflection of its season.
The Bulldogs went down by 26 and cut their deficit to four in the final minute, but it wasn’t enough, as Louisiana Tech won the second-round NIT game 79-71.
The Bulldogs finished with a record of 20-14, after beginning it 1-4.
And so ended a season that was on the verge of a death march before SEC play began, only to have Georgia surge back into relevance, albeit in the NIT rather than the NCAA tournament. But it was a season that “restored a great deal of pride in Georgia basketball,” as head coach Mark Fox put it Saturday.
“I’m an awful loser. But I’m an also smart enough to see the big picture,” Fox said. “As I told our guys, ‘You have the sting of the loss (Saturday) that you feel. But when you look back you’ll see that you finished second in this league, which only one team in 80 years (of Georgia basketball) has done better. You won 20 games, you went to the postseason, you advanced in the postseason.’
“There are some things that we’ll look back on and see if we approach this right, we can get better and take the next step.”
There is only one senior on Georgia’s roster, forward Donte’ Williams, who had two points and five rebounds Saturday.
“We progressed a lot here,” sophomore guard Charles Mann said. “I’m looking forward to next year and what we’ve got coming back.”
Mann had 13 points but seven turnovers.
“I just didn’t play well,” Mann said. “I didn’t take care of the ball in the beginning at all. I’ve just gotta do a better job at that.”
The team had 19 turnovers, a big reason it fell behind, along with Louisiana Tech hitting seven of its first eight 3-pointers.
Whether it was the 11 a.m. tipoff time or something else, Georgia just wasn’t ready, even though it knew Louisiana Tech (now 29-7) played a frenetic, Arkansas-style trap and press.
“Just not dialed in,” sophomore forward Brandon Morris said. “We kind of sailed out of the gates. A lot of players’ heads weren’t in it, and it showed early.”
Fox said the Bulldogs gave up three 3-pointers on something they covered extensively during practices, including in pregame. “We just weren’t as attached as you have to be to beat a good team,” Fox said.
J.J. Frazier, a backup point guard, led Georgia with a career-high 15 points, the first time he has led the team in scoring this season.
Early on it looked like Georgia would be run off the court in dramatic fashion. Louisiana Tech ran out to an 18-2 lead, first with its frenetic defense, then its 3-point shooting.
“They had us disrupted, and then they were shooting every ball in,” Fox said.
Fox burned through his timeouts. He used his final one with 17:09 still left in the game.
But Georgia still managed to make it interesting, helped by the crowd. Once again the general admission seating resulted in most of the few thousand fans being in the best seats, creating a raucous atmosphere, at least by NIT standards.
“They’re good. They’re Georgia. And they were at home,” Louisiana Tech head coach Michael White said when asked what happened in the second half.
“It got loud in here. That was a factor.”
Georgia slowly recovered, cutting its deficit to 19 at halftime, then to single digits with 6:45 left and seven points with 4:31 left. But Louisiana Tech withstood the run by hitting free throws, and a 3-pointer with 2:36 left made it a 13-point game again.
Again Georgia rallied, cutting the Louisiana Tech lead to six with 1:08 left. Then Mann stole the ball, only to have Louisiana Tech force a jump ball downcourt a few seconds later. The possession arrow belonged to the visitors, and soon so did the victory.
“I’m not happy with the way we played, and I’ll probably never get over that. But I do think this team did a lot of positive things,” Fox said. “The support from our fans show that they appreciate it, too.”