The Georgia Bulldogs faced off against the Ole Miss Rebels inside the Georgia Dome on Friday night. The quarterfinal match had Georgia coming in off a double bye, and the Rebels defeating Mississippi State in the second round. Georgia actually played Ole Miss at home earlier in the season, where they barely edged out a one-point victory. With both teams’ season on the line, the fans knew that both teams were going to leave everything they had out on the court.
Both squads started strong offensively by shooting better than 45% from the floor. Ole Miss could have been even better, but they were 1-11 from beyond the arc on a lot of poor shot decisions. Georgia played catchup for most of the first half, going down by as much as 11 points, but the Dawgs managed to rally back to only a 2-point deficit at the end of the half. Part of the problem was Kenny Gaines and Charles Mann getting into early foul trouble, which meant that Mark Fox had to rotate in the bench players for a lot more minutes than he intended. The Dawgs needed those guys step up in the second half in order to win the game.
The second half was a nail-biter down to the final shot. The problem for Georgia was Mann and Gaines playing with 4 fouls with about 6 minutes left. That kind of foul trouble could have spelled doom for the Dawgs, as both guards were on the bench with the game tied at 65. That meant every possession for UGA was critical as they weathered the storm until Gaines and Mann could return. Both teams continued to battle as the lead changed over 20 times.
The officiating and contact came into question late in the game as Mark Fox got hit with a technical foul, and the refs had to gather the players at the 4 minute mark to settle them down. Frankly, the calls were horrible as the refs were quick on the whistle. The Rebels’ Dwight Coleby and Sebastian Saiz fouled out of the game, while 3 other Rebels sat with 4 fouls. About half the players in this game were in danger of getting disqualified as 50 fouls were called in regulation. It really became a war of attrition regarding which players would foul out first. Nobody wants to see that in a playoff game.
The game came down to a battle of free throws. Each team traded fouls over and over and over again until the final minute when Georgia took the lead 72-71. Ole Miss then made a jumper from the top of the key to get the lead back 73-72 with 45 seconds left. After two misses in a row, Georgia got two clutch offensive rebounds that allowed Mann to dribble drive in for the layup, and the Dawgs regained the lead 74-73 with 17 second to go. Henderson took a 3-point shot for Ole Miss with 6 seconds left, but missed off the front, and Georgia came up with the rebound, getting fouled with 3.9 ticks to go. Thornton nailed the first, but missed the second, making the score 75-73 with less than 3 seconds in the game. Ole Miss would have one last shot at it, but they couldn’t get it to go, sealing Georgia’s victory.
Georgia finished the game shooting just 36% from the field, and still managed to pull out the win. Charles Mann with 16 points was the player of the game. Georgia now earns the right to play Kentucky on Saturday, and another chance to keep their season alive with even the faint possibility of an at-large bid with an upset victory.