Wash, rinse, repeat. Dead horse beaten. Something like that.
For a good chunk of Georgia’s eventual loss to South Carolina, it looked like the Bulldogs had finally pulled something together. They closed the first half on a 15-4 run, guard Tyree Crump hit four three-pointers, and with just over nine minutes to play, UGA had reeled the Gamecock lead to five.
Then, well, you probably know where this is going.
Five turnovers in six possessions, three of which resulted in threes from Gamecock forward Felipe Haase. The story of Tom Crean’s first season in Athens came back to haunt the home Bulldogs yet again, this time in a matchup of .500 teams. With Saturday’s 86-80 loss, the Bulldogs now sit at 10-11, 1-7 SEC and enter Wednesday’s contest with Alabama with six consecutive conference losses.
“Being able to close out those little stretches where we brought it close, was our main issue all game,” Bulldogs center Derek Ogbeide said. “We had two or three instances where we just couldn’t close it out. It burned us.”
The Bulldogs pulled within four with just under five minutes left, then turned the ball over and surrendered some easy buckets, including a dunk through a wide-open lane. That pushed the deficit back to eight.
The turnovers were technically down from Georgia’s average — the Bulldogs average 16.8 per game and committed “just” 14 Saturday — though it’s still not ideal for a team entering February to struggle so much at taking care of the ball. Rayshaun Hammonds committed four on his own.
Most of those Bulldog turnovers led to points. The Gamecocks grabbed 10 fast-break points, 15 points off turnovers and didn’t trail once. And still, the Bulldogs were within two points with 30 seconds left.
“The turnovers weren’t the issue as much as the open shots for them,” Crean said.
At least in the context of Saturday’s loss, Crean is right.
Georgia’s defensive lapses were galling. The Bulldogs would pull within a score or two, then the Gamecocks would hit a three. Or Chris Silva would draw a foul, and thus two free throws. They pulled within five with around a minute to go thanks to a Jordan Harris tip-in, then gave up a third three-pointer to Gamecocks guard Hassani Gravett.
South Carolina opened the game on a 22-8 run and shot 11-of-16 from three-point range, a remarkable 68 percent. The Bulldogs entered Saturday holding opponents to around 40 percent, on average.
The Gamecocks scored on more than half of their trips on offense. Add in an additional 56 percent shooting performance from the field, and Georgia’s defensive issues become even more glaring.
“We’re not getting our hands up as much (on defense),” Crean said. “Our communication, we’re not switching as well. If I had a couple of guys I could go to that knew they were going to go in and hold the fort down ... we’ve got to get better in those situations.”
Crean’s solutions, areas in which he says the Bulldogs must perform better, are pretty clear: communicating, sticking to the game plan, staying tough on the ball and challenging shots.
Crean stopped short of saying he doesn’t have a guy he can go to defensively, to “hold down the fort,” and even mentioned Christian Harrison’s defensive contributions. But it’s become pretty clear that this squad lacks that type of player. And given much of Georgia’s squad is still adapting to Crean’s coaching style, offensive approach, defensive approach, etcetera, it’s kind of expected.
Regardless, for Crean and the players, it doesn’t make the issues any less discouraging.
“We missed some layups, we missed some open threes, but today we didn’t guard the ball well enough,” Crean said. “We didn’t guard the shooters well enough. Whether we were in man or zone, we just did not have a hand up the way we needed to.
“I’m disappointed in that.”