Third time was the charm for Vandy in the SEC tournament Friday night after splitting regular season games against Mark Fox’s team.
The Dores had fretted aloud this week that they didn’t match up well with the Dogs, but they astutely applied what they’d learned in their two previous meetings, primarily by smothering Trey Thompkins with their zone. Thompkins, normally Georgia’s most consistent player, didn’t look that sharp anyway this particular night, but the Vandy defense didn’t give him much of a chance, holding him scoreless in the first half and to just 13 points on the night.
Add the Commodores’ domination of the boards and a string of 3’s that allowed them to pull away in the second half after the Dogs had narrowed their lead to 2, and that was pretty much the story, despite Travis Leslie wowing everyone with his career-high 34 points. But it wasn’t enough. Leslie “is a great player in this league,” Dores sophomore Lance Goulbourne told the Nashville Tennessean. “But he was the only one going off, really. As long as we got everyone else shut down, then we did a great job on defense.”
No. 20-ranked Vandy was obviously the better team, but as the Nashville Tennessean noted, Fox’s Dogs “were no ordinary East No. 6 seed.”
The Dogs, not expected to do much in Fox’s first year, had some big upset wins over ranked teams this season, which had some fans thinking this team worthy of continuing play in a third-tier tourney like the College Basketball Invitational or CollegeInsider.com Tournament.
Fox pretty much put that idea to rest Friday night, saying, “I don’t think we’ll do that. This is it.” The coach figures that the Dogs, at 14-17, are “not going to get an invitation somewhere to play” because “we don’t have a winning record. I think we’re done.”
But as Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald notes, teams with losing records have been selected for the 16-team CBI field the past two years. The tournament’s Ray Cella, who before Friday’s game listed Georgia as a team being considered, said, “We look at the entire scope of the season, and if they’re under .500 but still a quality basketball team, we’re interested in them.”
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Meanwhile, if this really is it for Fox’s first Georgia team, I think he’s scored a major achievement in Athens this year by making definite progress in turning around a program that was moribund. If Thompkins joins Leslie in returning next season and Fox can add a quality player or two, Georgia is going to become a factor again in SEC basketball. Those are two special players with bright futures.
Even with a losing record, this was a big season for Georgia basketball. As Fox put it after the game, “I am proud of this team because when I came everybody kept telling me how terrible we were. I don’t know if we were necessarily a great basketball team, but we beat some people maybe we weren’t supposed to beat, we’ve given our program some momentum, and we earned some respect back. In rebuilding, those are steps you have to take. So I don’t feel empty because we did take some steps forward, but I’m angry that we lost.”
As regular readers know, I’m against fans booing their own team, but now I’m looking foward to some sustained booing at Sanford Stadium in the future. Or rather, Booing.
With the news that incoming freshman running back Ken Malcome has decided to play under the nickname his family and friends have for him, Boo, I’m hoping he gives the crowd plenty of opportunity to salute big plays by offering up his name in vocal tribute.
The Southwest DeKalb star will be wearing No. 24, which has been pretty good to the last two Georgia players who’ve worn that number. So here’s hoping …
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