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Georgia Drops SEC Opener to Mississippi State, 83-73


Georgia basketball player Sahvir Wheeler (2) during a game against Mississippi State at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Ga., on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020. (Photo by Tony Walsh)

ATHENS, Ga. – Despite a valiant comeback effort in the second half, the University of Georgia men’s basketball team fell, 83-73, to Mississippi State in its Southeastern Conference opener Wednesday evening before 1,638 fans at Stegeman Coliseum.

With a 63 percent shooting clip in the second half, Georgia (7-1, 0-1 SEC) closed to within eight points of Mississippi State (6-3, 1-0 SEC), but the run was not enough to avoid its first defeat of the 2020-21 season.

Graduate P.J. Horne led Georgia in scoring with a career-high 21 points on 7-for-13 shooting, including five 3-pointers, while sophomore Toumani Camara notched his third double-double of the season with 11 points and 11 rebounds. Junior Tye Fagan and sophomore Christian Brown each scored 10 points, while sophomore Sahvir Wheeler led the Bulldogs with eight assists. For the game, Georgia shot 40 percent from the field, but the Bulldogs did tally a season-high nine 3-pointers on 36 percent shooting.

“We were extremely too quiet,” said head coach Tom Crean following the game. “We’ve had some moments like this in games and we’ve been able to overcome them. But you can’t beat good teams in this league if you are not more active defensively. We were in position, but we were not as active because we let our lack of offense in the first half control our defensive effort.”

Both teams took some time to heat up in the early going as a 3-pointer from Horne at the 16:35 mark finally put Georgia on the board. Conversely, Mississippi State established itself from outside with six treys in the opening 10 minutes, including three from freshman guard Devion Smith. Capitalizing on another Georgia dry spell, MSU extended its lead with a 10-0 run, but the Bulldogs started to fight back with seven straight points from Horne.

Despite Horne’s run, Mississippi State remained comfortably ahead for most of the half, leading by as much as 20 with under four minutes remaining. Sophomore Tyron McMillan then broke a nearly-four-minute field goal drought with a jumper, while Brown pitched in with a 3-pointer to narrow the margin just before halftime. The short scoring burst was capped off with a buzzer-beating tap-in from graduate Andrew Garcia, bringing the score to 41-27 at the half.

Graduate Justin Kier opened the second half with a quick jumper, but sophomore guard Iverson Molinar helped rebuild the lead for Mississippi State with back-to-back jumpers. Fagan and Horne kept Georgia in striking distance with two 3-pointers apiece, slicing the MSU advantage to 12 points at the first media timeout. The Bulldogs continued to chip away at the deficit, finding Camara inside for consecutive layups. The contest then settled into a back-and-forth with MSU maintaining an 11-point lead at the under-8 break.

Mississippi State’s strong shooting allowed it to withstand the Georgia run as a 3-pointer from sophomore guard D.J. Stewart, Jr. returned the lead to 16 with less than four minutes to play. Georgia attempted one last comeback effort in the final three minutes with a 13-3 run, but a pair of late misses at the rim allowed MSU to seal the game at the foul line.

Georgia now turns its attention to its first road trip of the season, beginning at LSU on Wednesday, Jan. 6 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The matchup with the Tigers is set for a 7 p.m. tip time and will be broadcast on SEC Network.