ATHENS — Charles Mann spoke plainly, because no other way would do at this point. One bad loss at home could be explained away. A second straight one could not.
“The want. The desire,” Mann said.
And he meant the lack of both, after Georgia lost 64-58 to South Carolina, the Bulldogs’ second straight at home to a team in the bottom three of the SEC.
“We’re not hungry anymore,” Mann said. “We’re settled with where we are now.”
Why is that?
“I have no idea,” he said.
Five days ago, Georgia was in prime position for an NCAA tournament bid. It would have to collapse in the final month in order to miss out.
The collapse is underway now, and the Bulldogs (16-9, 7-6 SEC) have to find a way to end it. That won’t be easy in the final five games, three of them on the road, and one of the home games against No. 1 Kentucky.
“Two of the worst teams in the league,” said Kenny Gaines, shaking his head.
He let out a frustrated sigh.
This one was nearly an improbable comeback for the Bulldogs, who trailed by 21 in the first half and 18 at halftime. They rallied to tie it with 4:31 left and had momentum and crowd support against a tired South Carolina team.
But the Bulldogs failed in their one chance to take a lead — Mann missed a runner — and the Gamecocks got offensive rebounds and two key 3-pointers down the stretch.
As the game ended, a Georgia player slammed the ball on the court. It wasn’t the first such demonstration. Nemanja Djurisic drew a technical in the first half when he tossed the ball back to the referee, during South Carolina’s run out to a 19-4 lead.
“South Carolina had much greater determination to do the dirty work at the start of the game,” Georgia head coach Mark Fox said. “So we dug ourselves an immense hole, we let frustration get the better of us, and we played uphill all night.”
Georgia’s horrid start was all the more surprising considering it was coming off Saturday’s loss to Auburn and had a chance to avenge last month’s loss at South Carolina. This game should have had Georgia’s attention. It somehow did not.
It didn’t help that J.J. Frazier, the team’s starting point guard, was missing his first game with a concussion. But that didn’t account for the struggles of others, namely leading scorer and rebounder Marcus Thornton.
The senior hasn’t looked the same since returning from a concussion earlier this month. He only had one field goal and three rebounds and two costly turnovers.
Mann (17 points) played pretty well, but Gaines (11) missed nine shots. The difference ended up being 3-pointers (nine for South Carolina; four for Georgia) and free throws (South Carolina was 13-for-14, Georgia was 14-for-23).
“I ain’t gonna have any excuses or blame it on injuries,” Mann said. “We’re just not playing well.”
The past two games were supposed to be victories that solidified Georgia’s position for an NCAA bid. Instead the Bulldogs have been put right back on the bubble, and perhaps the wrong side of it.
“We made it harder on ourselves,” Fox said. “We’ve got no one to blame but the person in the mirror. We can still accomplish what we set out to do. We made it much harder. We could use our health as an excuse but that’s a cop-out. We’ve gotta grow up.”