Ge­or­gia men’s bas­ket­ball team won 82-63 in a messy game against Van­der­bilt af­ter a tough loss to Ten­nessee last week.

The Telegraph (Macon) - - Front Page - BY JOSH MIXON [email protected]­

No­body ac­cused Tom Crean of set­ting the bar high for his first sea­son in Athens.

Crean stressed, at his in­tro­duc­tory press con­fer­ence back in March 2018, that the process would take time. Per­haps the en­tire year, maybe, be­fore the Bull­dogs be­gan to fully grasp his style and run it cleanly.

“I know it’s not go­ing to hap­pen overnight,” he said in his 20-plus-minute open­ing state­ment.

Two games into the Bull­dogs’ South­east­ern Con­fer­ence slate, it’s be­com­ing in­creas­ingly clear that Crean wasn’t ly­ing. He con­tin­ued to stress that it would, in fact, take some time be­fore this team could grasp his sys­tem in var­i­ous in­ter­views since.

One re­deem­ing fac­tor was that, at least, Crean’s first team would be fun to watch. It would score, a lot, but so would its op­po­nents. Through just two SEC games, though, the ver­dict is still out.

The Bull­dogs fol­lowed a 96-50 drub­bing at the hands of ri­val Ten­nessee with an 82-63 win to Van­der­bilt in their con- fer­ence home opener. But the turnovers were back (Ge­or­gia com­mit­ted its fair share of those Wednesday night) and the three-point­ers weren’t fall­ing, at least in the first half. Al­though it should be noted, they cer­tainly were fall­ing af­ter the break.

“I thought we’d re­spond (to the Ten­nessee loss),” Crean said af­ter the Van­der­bilt win. “That’s not in­dica­tive of us. … Are we go­ing to be the team that started the game at Ten­nessee, or are we go­ing to be the team that had all the ex­cite­ment that was here tonight?”

Af­ter an 8-4 start to the sea- son, a slight re­al­ity check for Crean’s Bull­dogs, and any­body who ex­pected a Mark Fox-re­cruited team to (overnight) trans­form into one that could com­pete with the Ken­tuckys and Ten­nessees of the SEC.

But also, a sign of prom­ise: That the 2019 Bull­dogs can win the ugly ones. And Wednesday night’s game was quite ugly, for over a half. Both teams strug­gled to score in the first half, both strug­gled with turnovers, and both were ice-cold from be­hind the three-point arc.

That, re­ally, is the co­nun­drum with the 2019 Bull­dogs.

Ge­or­gia’s three-point shots sud­denly started fall­ing af­ter


Ge­or­gia coach Tom Crean

the break. And the Bull­dogs started scor­ing, and play­ing with more free­dom and loose­ness than they did be­fore Tyree Crump and Wil­liam (Tur­tle) Jack­son hit back-to­back threes.

Rayshaun Ham­monds, af­ter a score­less first half, fin­ished with a team-best 19 points. Ni­co­las Clax­ton fin­ished one point away from a dou­ble­dou­ble.

“A lot of guys started knock­ing down shots,” Clax­ton said. “Tur­tle came up big, Derek (Og­beide), Rayshaun, they started hit­ting shots. Shots started fall­ing, and we played nice de­fense.”

So, the scor­ing abil­ity is there and so is the talent on the de­fen­sive end. For Ge­or­gia, it’s just a mat­ter of com­bin­ing the two, and ad­ding some con­sis­tency to the mix. Still, who knows how long that may last. But the Bull­dogs of­fered a glimpse of what’s to come — and a re­minder that they’re still a work in progress — over the course of two very dif­fer­ent halves against the Com­modores.

For now, at least for Crean’s squad, it’s still a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence — as it will be for much of the sea­son. But a win against Van­der­bilt af­ter lead­ing at half­time, some­thing the team has strug­gled with this sea­son, cer­tainly doesn’t hurt.

“We’re go­ing to have to have a lit­tle bit of time as we play this sched­ule to see if (tonight’s win) was real ma­tu­rity or not,” Crean said. “It’s def­i­nitely a step. They prac­ticed very well the past cou­ple of days. … We just don’t have a group of guys yet that know how to rally each other. That’s where they’re all in new roles.

“J.J. Fra­zier was that guy, Yante Maten was that guy. Now these guys, gotta be those guys.”

How fast the team will ad­just to those new roles is still rather un­known, but the Bull­dogs do travel to top-10-ranked Auburn on Saturday (4 p.m., ESPN2), a team that, for its part, dis­patched of Ole Miss on Wednesday.

KRISTIN M. BRAD­SHAW Spe­cial to the Tele­graph

Ge­or­gia guard Te­shaun Hightower pushes the ball up the floor dur­ing Wednesday’s 82-63 win over Van­der­bilt.

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