Georgia's ticket to the NCAAs may have just disintegrated before the Bulldogs' very eyes after 18th-ranked Vanderbilt roared back from a 13-point second-half deficit to post a 64-56 win Wednesday night at Stegeman Coliseum.
This one hurt.
With a victory, the Bulldogs (17-8, 6-5) could have laid claim to sole possession of second-place in the SEC East. But now, with back-to-back road games against Tennessee (Saturday) and Florida (February 24) on the docket, Georgia finds itself in the difficult position of likely needing to capture at least three of its remaining games to even have an argument for the 68-team NCAA field.
"That's a tough loss," said head coach Mark Fox, after watching the Commodores (19-6, 7-4) outscore his Bulldogs 24-3 over the final 9:47 to erase what was a 53-40 Georgia lead.
"They came out the second half and really just started throwing in a lot of good threes," junior guard Dustin Ware said. "We couldn't get some shots to go down. In the end, they just made plays."
Vanderbilt was having no such problems.
After going just 3-of-12 from the three-point line the first half, the Commodores exploded in the second, going 9-of-12 from beyond the arc in the final 20 minutes.
You can credit SEC leading scorer John Jenkins (19.8 points per game) for causing much of the damage.
Jenkins, who went 0-for-5 from the field in the first, didn't connect on his first field goal - a three pointer - until the 13:16 mark in the second.
There was plenty more to come, much to the Bulldogs' chagrin, as Jenkins went on to score 21 points - all the second half - including 5-of-8 from three-point range.
"Once the first one went down you're afraid as a coach that's going to get him going because he is a great player. We threw a lot of guys at him, including Gerald (Robinson Jr.) and Dustin. I thought we did a good job in the first half, because he is an excellent player," Fox said. "He's a terrific player. When the first one went down we were a little bit soft on him, maybe we gave him a good rhythm; you'd have to ask him. But certainly, he got going. Their three-point shooting was very good."
Despite the collapse, Georgia still led by three until Jenkins drilled a trey from the right arc to tie the game at 55 with 3:52 to go as the Commodores closed out the contest on a 12-1 run to finish with the eight-point victory.
A technical foul on Fox with 11 seconds to play resulted in a trio of free throws by Vandy to account for the final score.
"It was a weird game. The first 20 minutes neither team could make a shot and then for the next 10 minutes they made shots and then for the last 10 minutes we made them," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. "When we started making them I thought it energized our defense and we started getting more stops and we rebounded the ball great, which was the difference for us tonight."
Stallings wasn't kidding about that.
After watching the Bulldogs out-rebound his squad 44-36 in Nashville several weeks ago, Vanderbilt dominated the boards Wednesday, smashing Georgia on the glass to the tune of 49-32.
"I'll have to go back and watch the tape. We won the battle the first game so I'd assume they really made that a point of emphasis for this one," Fox said. "They really beat us on the glass and they beat us badly. That hasn't happened to us very often."
The Commodores also did a wonderful job defending Trey Thompkins, who went just 2-for-10 from the field and finished with just eight points.
Robinson Jr. led Georgia with 15 points, followed with 11 by Ware who converted 4-of-6 three-pointers.
"We've just got to keep playing all 40 minutes," said junior Travis Leslie, who finished with just nine points. "If we do that the whole game, we could have won. I thought we got a little complacent in the second half and let them back in it."