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March 8, 2012NEW ORLEANS - Gerald Robinson scored 23 points, Dustin Ware added 13 and Georgia beat Mississippi State 71-61 in the opening round of the Southeastern Conference tournament on Thursday night.
"That's a terrific win for us. We beat a very good basketball team. So to do that, we had to play very well, which I thought we did a lot of really good things in the game," head coach Mark Fox said. "I thought that offensively we played really within our system and played together and felt like we had a lot of good possessions just because we understand each other. And then obviously our defense was key for us to keep them at bay. They made some threes there late and made a little run on us. But I was really pleased with our young kids because we beat a good team, a team we have a lot of respect for."
Georgia stretched its lead to 54-41 on Robinson's layup with 8:12 remaining, but Mississippi State had one last rally. Jalen Steele scored nine points in 90 seconds, and his final 3-pointer pulled the Bulldogs within 60-57 with 3:44 remaining.
But Georgia (15-16)-the tournament's No. 11 seed-held on for the surprising win. Robinson's jumper with 59 seconds left gave his team an insurmountable 66-59 lead.
"Our main objective was to go in there and play hard for 40 minutes. We knew they're a very talented basketball team all around," Robinson said. "They have some good wings and some shooters, still knocked down a couple, got to get your hand up. But we were playing hard and fighting over screens and we played hard for 40 minutes.>
Sixth-seeded Mississippi State (21-11) was led by Steele's 19 points. Brian Bryant scored 11 and Dee Bost added 10.
MSU's Arnett Moultrie had a SEC-best 18 double-doubles this season, but finished with just seven points and eight rebounds.
Mississippi State has lost six of its past eight. Georgia has won three of four and will face Vanderbilt in the quarterfinals on Friday.
Georgia had already beaten Mississippi State once this season-a 70-68 overtime decision in Starkville, Miss.-and it started a downhill spiral that included a five-game losing streak and tumble from the national rankings. And the Bulldogs were a handful for Mississippi State once again.
"It's exciting. It's fun. It's college basketball in March," Robinson said. "That's what you live for at this age. Once again, you've just got to go in and get some rest. and once it gets started, just put it aside. Now, we just want to go out there and get one more victory."
Senior guard Dustin Ware agreed.
"We have been doing this all our lives in AAU. It's tournament time, it's fun," Ware said. "We're just going to get rested up and get ready for tomorrow."
Mississippi State's NCAA tournament resume took a major hit with the loss. Missing the "Big Dance" would be a crushing blow for a team that was ranked No. 15 in the nation just a month ago, but fell apart in February and March.
Georgia has struggled for much of the season, but improved during February. The Bulldogs came into the tournament after winning two of their final three regular-season games, including an impressive 76-62 victory over Florida.
Georgia last won the SEC tournament with a miracle run in 2008, winning four games in four days after finishing 4-12 in league play.
Early, it didn't look good for Georgia.
Mississippi State controlled the opening minutes and a powerful, two-handed Wendell Lewis jam in traffic gave the Bulldogs an early 14-7 lead.
But Georgia recovered and stayed close before taking a 29-27 lead on Nemanja Djurisic's long 3-pointer with 1:03 remaining. Georgia led 31-29 at halftime and then cruised in the second half, shooting 51 percent from the field in the final 20 minutes.
Djurisic scored 11 points and grabbed 11 rebounds.
"We have got a young front line, as you know. Nemanja got the first double-double of the season for our team. And I thought his effort on the glass was critical to the game," Fox said. "And Marcus, I think, we got nine total minutes from Marcus and Donte' in the first half because of foul trouble. So John Cannon and Nemanja, John Florveus, those guys were critical to the win tonight because they had to play certainly significant minutes in the first half. And then Nemanja obviously made some real key plays on the glass for us."