Observations: Georgia men fall to Mississippi State for first loss of season

Andy Walsh | The Red & BlackGeorgia basketball player Toumani Camara (10) during a game against Mississippi State at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Ga., on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020.

The Georgia men’s basketball team lost to Mississippi State 83-73 to open up conference play in Stegeman Coliseum on Tuesday. The Bulldogs are now 7-1 after their first loss of the season. Here are some observations from The Red & Black:

Can’t buy a bucket

Up against a tall and physical Mississippi State frontcourt, the first half was a wake-up call for Georgia. The away Bulldogs started with Abdul Ado (6-foot-11 and 255 pounds) and Tolu Smith (6-foot-10, 245 pounds) down low and Georgia quickly realized that it was overmatched in the paint. The duo set up a wall and made it difficult for any drive to the paint. To counter the sizable frontcourt, the home Bulldogs looked to their outside shooting to put up points. The only catch: they couldn’t get a shot to fall.

Georgia ended the first half 3-for-15 from behind the arc, 9-for-38 overall and finished with its lowest point total in a half with 27. Tye Fagan, PJ Horne and head coach Tom Crean said in the virtual postgame press conference that the Bulldogs missed easy shots and they let that affect their energy.

“As I told the team after the game, we played like we were on the road, we really did ... we were quiet,” Crean said. “You've got to have real strong courage and confidence to keep going when you're not making shots.”

On the contrary, Mississippi State had no trouble getting outside shots to fall. The away Bulldogs went 8-for-17 on 3-pointers and only made six two-point field goals in the first 20 minutes.

With around eight minutes to go in the first half, Georgia went into a zone that helped slow down the Mississippi State onslaught. The only problem was that Georgia was unable to capitalize on the improved defensive effort and went into halftime down 14 points after trailing by as many as 19.

In the second half, Georgia showed some fight by hitting 63% of its shots and making six 3-pointers on 10 attempts. Horne was the Bulldogs’ catalyst from outside, hitting five of his 10 shots from behind the arc and finishing with a team-high 21 points. Fagan chipped in with two 3-pointers and Toumani Camara and Christian Brown each had one.

It wasn’t enough though, as Mississippi State still shot a solid 56.3% from the floor and staved off a few Georgia runs in the final 20 minutes to finish off with a 10-point win.

Comparing guard play

Georgia has relied on strong guard play through the first seven games of the season. Sophomore guard Sahvir Wheeler is second on the team with 13.7 points per game. Graduate transfer Justin Kier and Fagan both average double-digit points for the Bulldogs. On Tuesday however, Georgia had a tough time getting production from its backcourt and its hands were full guarding Mississippi State’s Iverson Molinar, DJ Stewart Jr. and Deivon Smith.

Wheeler was held scoreless until he banked home a layup with 6:08 left in the second half. He was 0-for-8 before getting a shot to fall. The sophomore finished with six points, eight assists and five turnovers. Kier logged four points and shot 2-for-8 from the field, while Fagan had 10 points. Kier and Wheeler combined for 0-for-5 from behind the arc and Crean said they took too many off-balanced jump shots.

“I can live with missed 3's,” Crean said. “I can't live with over dribbling and off-balance jump shots. Can't live with that, not gonna live with that.”

Conversely, Mississippi State’s trio got to their spots and hit their shots, combining for 55 points and 10 of the away Bulldogs’ 12 3-pointers. Fagan said Georgia had a tough time fighting over screens and closing out on the Mississippi State guards on the perimeter. Stewart used his 6-foot-6 frame and Molinar and Smith used their quickness to get open shots and make plays.

“We were not as good in our game plan,” Crean said. “Our three leading scores went eight of 31 and they had six free throws between the three of them. You still got to make something happen defensively. And we were not doing a good job of guarding the ball. We're not doing a good job of helping on the screens. And we weren't as engaged, and when that happens, good teams make shots.”

Fighting on the boards

The aforementioned front line of Mississippi State has pushed the Bulldogs to No. 5 in the SEC in rebounding with 40.8 per game heading into Wednesday. Georgia came into the matchup second in the SEC averaging 43.9 per game, and the home Bulldogs actually managed well on the boards despite their lack of size.

In the first half, Georgia recorded 30 rebounds to Mississippi State’s 27 and came up with nine offensive rebounds and five second-chance points. Mississippi State established itself more after the break, eventually winning the rebound battle 42-41 and getting 13 second-chance points.

“Yeah, obviously [their size is] a difference maker,” Fagan said. “But that's not what beat us, we beat ourselves.”

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