AUBURN, Ala. – Any hope remaining for a possible scenario in which Georgia could still wind up with an at-large opportunity to the NCAA Tournament has ended.
On Wednesday, Georgia lost 84-81 to Auburn, a team that entered the game with only four wins in the conference. Instead, the Bulldogs’ hopes of heading back to the NCAA Tournament in consecutive seasons ended, unless Georgia is somehow able to win the SEC Tournament.
Georgia (14-12, 7-8 SEC) started as horrible as it could but ended up with a late chance thanks to senior guard Kenny Gaines. Gaines hit three late 3-pointers to cut Auburn’s lead to only three points with 23 seconds to go.
T.J. Lang led Auburn in scoring with 21 points. Leading Georgia was junior guard J.J. Frazier with 29.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Telegraph
The Tigers (11-16, 5-10) shot the ball extremely well, hitting 11 of their 24 3-point attempts.
Georgia has now lost four of its last five games.
THREE WHO MATTERED
Frazier: Frazier was the reason Georgia had a shot down the stretch. His 29 points came up huge in the Bulldogs’ comeback effort, even though it was too little too late. Frazier tried to push the tempo in the second half and seemed to be playing the hardest of anyone on the court.
Lang: Lang was lights out for Auburn, hitting 3 of his 4 3-point attempts. Georgia was burned by his outside shooting all game, as well as the 8-of-10 performance he had from the free-throw line.
Gaines: Gaines scored 23 points, including those huge 3-pointers that made things interesting down the stretch. Gaines did everything he could late in this one to get his team back in the game.
There were two turning points in this one. Down by 10 with a little over than 10 minutes left in the game, however, Auburn guard Jordan Granger hit a 3 to put Auburn back up by 13. Late in the game, with Georgia cutting the lead to 6, Auburn’s T.J. Dunans drove in and threw down a thunderous dunk that seemed to be the exclamation point in this one. Those two plays, at the time they happened, turned out to be just enough to keep Georgia from sending this one to overtime.
Awful first half: Georgia played its worst half of basketball all season in the first 20 minutes. The Bulldogs were sluggish offensively and gave Auburn a ton of open 3-point looks. In the first meeting, the Tigers were unable to connect. On Wednesday, Auburn connected early and often. Georgia looked flustered and frustrated.
Where was Maten?: Maten, who did his part in the second half, only played nine minutes in the first 20 minutes. At this stage of the season it makes very little sense to have one of your top two players on the bench for 11 minutes in the first half, even if he’s not being assertive as he should be. After the game, head coach Mark Fox did say Maten was benched because he wasn't playing well. It was a strange development in a game Georgia couldn’t afford to lose.
Too little, too late: The final score probably wasn't as reflective of how the game went. But a flurry of late 3-pointers from Gaines and Frazier, with Frazier sinking a bunch of late free-throws too, made the game much more interesting than it should have been. With the hot shooting, Georgia ended up 10 of 22 from behind the arc by the end of the game. But the poor first half set the stage for a loss, which puts Georgia out of the big dance without winning the SEC Tournament.
A year's difference: In 2015, Georgia got a late-season win over Auburn, which propelled it to the NCAA Tournament. This year, Wednesday's loss kills any at-large chances Georgia hoped or thought it still might have.
Goose eggs: Georgia played 10 players and had five of them go scoreless. Turtle Jackson, Osahen Iduwe, E'Torrion Wilridge, Houston Kessler and Kenny Paul Geno all didn't post a bucket. Wilridge, Geno and Kessler all played 10 minutes or more.
After the buzzer: Right as the first half ended, Iduwe and Auburn's Jordon Granger got mixed up with one another and were each assessed a technical foul. After the game, Fox said he didn't see it and couldn't comment on it.
THEY SAID IT
Frazier on his performance against Auburn: "As a competitor I’m disappointed. I didn’t come to compete as well as I should have in the first half. I let my team down. I put us in a hole. If you’re on the road against – and they’re an older team and they’ve won some big games. It’s hard to dig out of that hole."
Gaines on Georgia's slow start on both ends of the court: "We didn’t execute offensively like we needed to. We couldn’t get stops. We couldn’t score. We had to fight uphill the rest of the game."
Fox on how Georgia played in the first half: "We weren’t mentally in the right place to start the game. We didn’t play well on either end to start the game. We did some of the things in the second half we wanted to do throughout the game but not all the games. It’s disappointing."
Georgia will host Mississippi at Stegeman Coliseum at noon on Saturday.