Donte Williams scored a career-high 17 points as Georgia overcame a 7-point deficit in the second half to defeat South Dakota State in the Progressive CBE Classic basketball tournament here Wednesday night, 72-61.
The Bulldogs (3-0) will continue in the Classic next week, when they face No. 23 California in Kansas City on Monday night. Also in the 4-team gathering will be 24th-ranked Missouri and Notre Dame.
After battling to a 28-all tie at halftime, Georgia quickly found itself in a deficit in the second half. The Jackrabbits (1-2) scored a free throw and 3-point shot on their first two possessions of the final period. Eventually, they built their advantage to its largest at 38-31 on a jumper by Chad White with 17:08 left.
Georgia then responded with a 21-6 scoring run that covered the ensuing seven minutes. Five different Bulldogs scored in the rally, none more important than freshman Nemanja Djurisic, who tallied 12 of his 14 points in the second period.
"Nemi's a very skilled player for us and I think he was just really wound up in the first half," Georgia coach Mark Fox said. "Fortunately, he was able to settle down a litter later into the game, which allowed him to come into his own and make plays for us that contributed to the victory."
Georgia took the lead for keeps on a 3-pointer by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope that pushed his team ahead 43-40 with 14:10 left. Despite a pair of answering buckets by South Dakota State, the Bulldogs continued their run with three straight scores, a trey by Sherrard Brantley and a basket each by Djurisic and Caldwell-Pope, the latter ending Georgia's 21-6 barrage at the 10:20 mark of the second period.
Consecutive layups by Djurisic got the Bulldogs their first double-digit margin at 64-53 with 4:19 left.
South Dakota State dropped a 16-point decision at Minnesota two days before, a game which followed an identical pattern to its contest against the Bulldogs. The Jackrabbits led their big-name foes both nights into the second half, only to fade in the final minutes.
Indeed, Georgia seemed to take over the final quarter of this game. The Bulldogs won the second-half rebounding battle 20-15 and shot a much-improved 47 percent over the last 20 minutes.
"We were hoping to really wear them down throughout the game and I think we were able to do that successfully," Fox said. "We didn't play exceptionally well, but we played really hard for all 40 minutes and it gave us a good win that we can continue to build on as the season progresses."
The 17 points scored by Williams represented a major offensive breakthrough for the sophomore from Ellenwood. It marked his first double-figure scoring game as a collegian, 12 better than his previous high of five points. Just as important, however, were his team-high four blocked shots and seven rebounds.
"I just wanted to play aggressively, play hard," Williams said. "I needed to rebound more than our last game, and I also needed to step up the intensity of my play on defense."