For the first 20 minutes, thoughts of an improbable run through the field at the SEC Tournament held some semblance of plausibility for the Georgia basketball team.
Unfortunately, whatever dreams the Bulldogs may have had of advancing past the quarterfinal round died with a disastrous second half as No. 3 seed Vanderbilt held No. 11 seed Georgia to 16 points en route to a 63-41 win Friday night at the New Orleans Arena.
The Commodores (22-10 ) move on to Saturday's semifinal game against Ole Miss, while the Bulldogs end their season at 15-17.
"To say we just didn't defend well enough, that would be unfair to Vanderbilt to say that. Our defense was pretty good in the first half. I think they made their first five or six shots to start the second half, and I really think that was the big key," head coach Mark Fox said. "Then we certainly didn't finish enough plays ourselves offensively. But our defense just failed us and I thought that was a big key."
This was not the same Georgia team which played so well in knocking off Mississippi State 71-61 in Thursday's opening round.
Not only did the 41 points represent a season-low for the Bulldogs, but Georgia also shot just over 31 percent for the game and turned the ball over 17 times, compared to just eight for the Commodores.
John Jenkins led the way for Vanderbilt with 15 points, followed by Brad Tinsley who added 12 on 5-of-7 shooting.
Dustin Ware scored 10 points to lead Georgia, which led 25-24 at the half but missed 21 of 27 shots in the second. No other Bulldog finished in double-figures, as foul trouble kept Gerald Robinson and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope on the sideline for much of the first half, although Georgia was able to get 17 from its bench en route to taking the halftime lead.
"It makes it hard. We didn't get anything from them the in the first half, really, and we were ahead at the half. But we knew we do need those guys or this team needs those guys to score for us. And tonight they didn't. So it certainly made it hard," Fox said. "But I don't think any of us were able to really leave here and say we played well offensively. We just had 17 turnovers tonight, which that's almost twice what we have been getting, and just didn't play well enough. And Vandy, have to give them credit for playing a good second half for sure."
Robinson was happy that his teammates on the bench were able to respond, a group that included freshman John Cannon, who scored a season-high six points.
"In basketball, it's a team game, so it was good to get some production from our bench," Robinson said. "And I'm actually very glad, they actually kept us in the game in the first half. We weren't getting anything from our starters. We were in foul trouble, people were in and out of the game and on the bench, so it made it difficult. But it was actually that we were able to overcome that beginning. We should have been able to regroup in the second half. "
Tinsley scored the first five points of the second half for Vanderbilt, which quickly built a double-digit lead and were never threatened the rest of the way. The final 22-point margin represented the Commodores' biggest lead of the evening.
Players denied that fatigue played much, if any, of a factor.
"Maybe little bit, but that's part of basketball. You got to learn how to play through that. It's just tonight we just weren't able to overcome that," Robinson said. "We dug yourself a hole at the beginning of the game and were actually able to overcome that and be up a couple points at halftime. Dug ourselves one in the second half and just couldn't overcome it and get over the hump."
"When you're in the tournament, everybody feels the same thing. You are just really out there just battling," he said. "Coach said we really put ourselves into two holes. We were able to fight out the first one. The second half, against a good team like that, it's going to be tough to recover. "
Looking ahead to next season, Fox expects the lessons learned by his young squad will be benefit come next season.
"We started two freshmen and two sophomores tonight. I feel very good about the experience that those guys were able to get," Fox said. "I feel very good about the players we're bringing into our team. And this group had a challenge because we had so much inexperience and a couple guys leave early. I thought they accepted that with great class, and that experience will be very valuable for us moving forward."
NOTES: Georgia led at halftime, 25-24, primarily on the strength of a 17-0 lead on bench points. ... Jenkins now has 1,580 and moved into the Vanderbilt top-10 career scoring list. ... With his 10 points, Ware finishes his career with 1,007 and became the 42nd player in school history to reach 1,000 in a career.
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