Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
The Georgia Bulldogs played the Vermont Catamounts in the first round of the NIT on Wednesday. Georgia players and fans were obviously disappointed that the team didn’t make it into the NCAA tournament, but with a #2 seed in the NIT, the Dawgs had a solid chance of advancing deep into the tournament. However, the Catamounts were coming off a strong season with a better winning record than UGA, so they weren’t going to go down easy. The Dawgs had to play the same physical brand of basketball that won them games in the SEC, and keep the mistakes to a minimum.
The first half was all Georgia as the Dawgs as the team jumped out to a 9 point lead. Marcus Thornton scored 11 points, and the Bulldogs really dominated the boards and the paint. However, in the second half UGA’s old nememis reared it’s ugly head. UGA has had a problem with turnovers all season, and the game came completely unraveled due to giveaways in the second half. With over 8 minutes to play, the Dawgs had already committed an astonishing 21 turnovers, and Vermont went on a 27-9 run. Mark Fox had to call a time out to try and stop the bleeding, clearly upset with the team for playing sloppy and giving the game away.
As the clock wound down, Vermont fired 3 pointers at a 50% rate. Every time the Dawgs would rally, Vermont would make a three and turn back momentum. At one point, Vermont made 4 triples in four minutes. Even though UGA was shooting 50% from the floor, the Dawgs still found themselves down 7 points with 6 minutes to go. The outlook for victory was bleak. That’s when Charles Mann put the team on his back. Mann scored 6 points including 4 free throws to get the Catamount lead down to 1 with 3 minutes left.
The Dawgs have been amazing at home all season with a 14-2 record to show for it. Many of those games came down to the last few minutes where Georgia found a way to close the deal. Charles Mann continued to dazzle, getting an old-fashioned 3 point play to give UGA a two point lead. Marcus Thornton followed that up with another bucket and the foul, extending the lead to five for Georgia. With Vermont on the ropes and under a minute to go, the Catamounts were forced to foul. However, Georgia shot over 90% from the charity stripe, and they easily iced the game away.
Charles Mann was easily the player of the game with 29 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and a steal. When the Dawgs needed a hero, Mann had his best game of the year. It was more than enough to help UGA advance to the next round, where they will face #3 seed Louisiana Tech. Hopefully, the Bulldogs can cut down on the turnovers in the next round on their way to another NIT victory.