CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — Charles Mann was supposed to take the next step this year, perhaps be an all-conference player and become a rising star in college basketball.
Instead the junior point guard found himself on Georgia’s bench Tuesday night to start the game, after sitting most of the second half of the previous game. He didn’t like it. He also agreed with it.
“I deserved it,” Mann said. “I didn’t play well, and J.J. (Frazier) had been playing well. It was needed. It just made me realize I’ve gotta play better and can’t let my team down again.”
That’s precisely what Mann did, and it was a big reason Georgia looked so good in an 86-55 rout at overmatched Chattanooga.
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Mann had 16 points, five assists, five rebounds and only two turnovers. He looked like the player picked as a preseason first-team All-SEC performer, rather than the player who had zero points and four turnovers in last week’s loss to Minnesota.
“I should be playing like this; it’s nothing new to me, I’m a pretty good player,” Mann said. “But I should be playing like this, having two times more assists than turnovers. I’ve just gotta keep it up throughout the season.”
Mann wasn’t the only player who starred for Georgia (4-3). Senior Marcus Thornton set a career-high with 24 points, surpassing his previous total of 17. Chattanooga center Justin Tuoyo said Thornton was a tougher matchup than the Wisconsin All-America candidate he defended three weeks ago.
“No disrespect to Fred Kaminsky, but that was a tough out,” Tuoyo said of Thornton.
Junior guard Kenny Gaines had a game-high 25 points, knocking down all but one of his six 3-point attempts. And senior forward Nemanja Djurisic chipped in 10 points and eight rebounds.
“We just wanted to get back to playing like we’re used to playing and supposed to be playing,” Gaines said. “We’ve just gotta keep it up in the high-level games.”
To that end, it was Mann’s response that was most encouraging to a Georgia team that needs him as it enters another important stretch.
Chattanooga (3-5) wasn’t the best competition, even if the game was on its home court. The Mocs lost by 44 at Wisconsin and also lost to Tennessee Tech and Kennesaw State.
But on Sunday comes Colorado, which made the NCAA tournament last year, and after last week’s two losses in New York City — to Gonzaga and Minnesota — the Bulldogs badly need some wins for their resume.
Sensing the urgency, head coach Mark Fox put Frazier in the starting lineup on Tuesday and played him the entire second half against Minnesota. Frazier was taking care of the ball, while Mann was not.
But Fox also hoped it would jolt Mann.
“As a coach you gotta help them grow,” Fox said. “And I think I needed to take some pressure off him, for one, and I thought he could learn a lesson from it. But he certainly responded well.”
Gaines saw a difference in his teammate.
“After New York, Coach told us J.J. was gonna start and all I saw was determination on his face, to get that starting spot back,” Gaines said. “Not really an attitude saying that he was mad, but he knew that he had to do some things better.”