Georgia holds off Oakland comeback, wins 81-69
ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Twice up by 17 points, Georgia was staring at a two-point lead against Oakland with five minutes to go and a nightmarish memory.
But the Bulldogs showed signs of progress, pulling away late for an 81-69 victory on Tuesday night. It was a reversal of Saturday’s 76-74 loss to No. 20 Arizona State when the Bulldogs blew an 18-point lead.
Rayshaun Hammonds and Nicolas Claxton scored 17 points apiece for the Bulldogs. Claxton also had 13 rebounds and three blocks while Hammonds added 11 rebounds for his first career double-double.
Teshaun Hightower chipped in with 16 points and William Jackson II had 14 for Georgia (6-4).
Xavier Hill-Mais had 21 points and nine rebounds for the Golden Grizzlies (4-8). Jaevin Cumberland added 14 points and Braden Norris had 13.
“Our team was down after that loss the other night,” said Georgia coach Tom Crean. “They went at it the last two days. They practiced hard and were competitive. Bottom line, we found a way. I know that is a cliché, but it is true.”
Jackson made four 3-pointers in the first half, one shy of a career best. He hadn’t hit a 3 since Nov. 21. Crean credited better footwork and the fact that Jackson was playing off the ball more.
Jackson was averaging just 2.9 points. His fourth 3-pointer with 10:44 to go in the first half boosted the Bulldogs to a 27-10 lead.
Oakland coach Greg Kampe said his team’s inexperience showed when it could not catch Georgia at the end. The Grizzlies lost all five starters from last year, and only Mount St. Mary’s returned fewer minutes played from last season.
“We’re a very young, inexperienced team, and I think we showed that tonight,” Kampe said. “But we cannot make the mistakes we made during the game. You know, they’ve got to be there and learn from it.”
Kampe said it was the hardest his team has played since the season opener.
“If we play that hard, and if (James) Beck will rebound (nine) like he did tonight, we’ve got a chance to be pretty good, and before this year’s over. Now, there’s still a lot of stumbling blocks out there. There still is.”
After being down by 17 in the first half, Oakland got as close as 66-64 with 4:56 to play. Following a Georgia timeout, Claxton and Hightower scored on five straight possessions to help the Bulldogs pull away.
Georgia still had a 17-point lead as late as 6:37 in the first half when Hightower’s 3 made it 37-20. But Oakland whittled it down to 45-34 at the break.
In the second half, the Grizzlies got as close as three when Norris hit a 3-pointer with 14:05 remaining to make it 51-48. Hightower answered with a 3 and two free throws to push the lead back to 56-48 with 13:08 remaining.
Hill-Mais then sparked a 10-2 run, hitting three free throws and two layups to make it 66-64 Georgia, prompting a Bulldog timeout with 4:56 to go.
Georgia capitalized on five straight possessions: a Claxton dunk and two free throws, an acrobatic runner by Hightower, another Claxton free throw, and a trey by Hightower to build a 76-64 lead with just 2:00 to play.
Oakland: The Grizzlies were No. 20 in the country in turnovers per game at 10.9, but fell into Georgia’s frenetic pace and committed 14, just one less than the Bulldogs, who were 345th in the country with 17.1 per game.
Georgia: The Bulldogs blew a double-digit lead against No. 20 Arizona State on Saturday, and were in danger of repeating the tragedy against Oakland, a much lesser opponent. The Bulldogs twice led by 17 points in the first half, but Oakland managed to get as close as 66-64 before Claxton and Hightower sparked the closing surge.
Oakland returns to Michigan on Friday but plays at No. 10 Michigan State.
Georgia visits Georgia Tech on Saturday. The Bulldogs have won the last three games against Tech after losing four straight before that.