ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Big leads have been poison to Georgia basketball this year, but not Saturday.
The Bulldogs led Arkansas early by 18 points, and held on for a 99-89 Southeastern Conference win.
Earlier this season, Georgia led Missouri by 20 only to lose by three, led Florida by 22 only to lose by six, and led Alabama by 12, only to lose 105-102. This time, the Bulldogs never trailed.
Anthony Edwards scored 26 points for Georgia (15-14, 5-11), including nine straight in the final 67 seconds. Junior Rayshawn Hammonds added 22 points and nine rebounds. Four more Bulldogs scored in double figures.
“Coach (Tom) Crean preaches two halves,” said senior Tyree Crump, who scored 14 points, including a 3-pointer with 1:36 to play that put Georgia up by six. “Win each four minutes, he says. And then take control the last two minutes. Momentum is always up for grabs.”
Arkansas (18-11, 6-10) got 26 apiece from Isaiah Joe and Mason Jones. Desi Sills added 21. Jones was injured with 90 seconds to play and did not return to the game.
Georgia led wire to wire. Only twice after the opening seconds did Arkansas have possession with a chance to tie. The closest the Razorbacks came was a one-point deficit late in the contest.
Arkansas entered as the nation’s top defense against the 3-point shot. Georgia made 10 of 23.
“We did not get to their guys as quick as we possibly could,” said Arkansas coach Eric Musselman.
“They can score the ball well,” he said of Georgia. “We had poor transition defense. We have played really poorly for three straight road games. We dug too big of a hole.”
Crean praised Arkansas and Musselman. “That was a high-level team we played,” he said. “They are well coached. It was an education preparing for him.”
For the first 12 minutes of the game, the Bulldogs looked like a tournament team. Georgia scored the first 14 points of the game. Musselman called two timeouts in the first four minutes.
The Hogs began to hit some NBA-range 3-pointers, but with 8:24 to go in the first half, Edwards hit a 3-pointer to put the Bulldogs up 36-18. Georgia was shooting 71 percent from the field and out-rebounding the Razorbacks 15-4.
The Bulldogs cooled off at the end of the half. Meanwhile, Arkansas capitalized at the free-throw line, hitting 11 of 15 to get as close as eight points. Georgia led 47-39 at halftime.
Jones, the Razorbacks leading scorer at 21.1 points per game, managed only four free throws in the first half. He missed all three field goals he attempted, including a wild layup attempt that bounced off the top of the backboard. Joe and Sills each scored 14 in the first half for Arkansas. Sills was three for four beyond the 3-point line,
Hammonds led Georgia in the first half with 17 points. Crump said he knew after the shoot-around that Hammonds would have a big night.
“I knew he was going to have a good game,” said Crump. “He was doing stuff that he does not normally do in the shoot-around. Anytime we have Rayshawn smiling, we are going to have a great day.”
Jones broke out of his funk less than a minute into the second half, hitting a layup and a 3-pointer to pull the Razorbacks within three at 47-44. Over a three-minute stretch, Georgia answered with a four dunks, two apiece by Jordan Harris and Toumani Camara, to stretch the Bulldog lead to eight 58-50 with 14:21 to go. Harris scored 11, and Camara 10.
Jones began to attack the basket with passion, scoring four layups in a 10-2 Razorback run to narrow the margin to 73-70 with 6:59 to go. Adrio Bailey got free for a dunk with 6:11 to go to cut the gap to one, 71-70. Joe’s two free throws with 2:13 to go made it 85-84, Georgia, but Arkansas never got closer.
Jones made another attack on the basket inside of two minutes, but missed. He slipped to the floor and did not get up, watching with a grimace as Crump hit a 3-pointer on the other end to give Georgia a 90-84 lead. He watched from the bench as Georgia pulled away for the win.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks are a bubble team and needed a win Saturday. Arkansas lost five straight games while Joe was out, but had a two-game winning streak coming in. The loss probably means to get to post-season, Arkansas will have to win the SEC Tournament.
Georgia: The win by Georgia was its third SEC victory in four games and was critical toward its goal of a first-round bye in the Southeastern Conference Tournament. Georgia realistically must win the tournament to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. Without a first-round bye, Georgia would have to win five games in five days.
Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman said that freshman Anthony Edwards was just as good as advertised. “He’s a great player,” said Musselman, an NBA assistant for six seasons. “On his pullup off the bounce, he can rise over people. He is an incredible player with an incredible future. He has an NBA body now. He can dribble-drive in the NBA right now. He can take contact and finish. He has NBA explosiveness and NBA strength.”
PACKING THEM IN
Georgia set two new attendance records. With 10,017 in the Stegeman Coliseum, the Bulldogs set a new single-season attendance record of 154,064, more than 5,000 better than the old record, with one more sold-out game to go. It was also the 10th crowd of 10,000 or more this year, another record, bettering the 2002-03 team. Crean has been effusive in his praise of the crowds, and Saturday was no exception. “When we got stops, the crowd went to another level,” he said. “We don’t win this game without the fans. I can’t thank them enough.”
Asked how the loss affects its tournament hopes, Arkansas' Musselman said, “We just have to worry about the next game. We have to figure out how to play with more intensity against LSU.”
Arkansas The Razorbacks stay on the road, playing at LSU Wednesday.
Georgia The Bulldogs close out their home schedule when Florida visits Wednesday.
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