NEW ORLEANS — There were a number of reasons Georgia was able to dispatch Mississippi State in such a dominating fashion Thursday night. Nemanja Djurisic was a big one.
The 6-foot-8, 230-pound import from Montenegro became the Bulldogs’ first post player to record a double-double all season when he scored 11 points and pulled down 11 rebounds in the 71-61 victory in the opening round of the SEC Tournament. Five of Djurisic’s rebounds came on the offensive end. He added a 3-pointer, an assist and a steal.
“Nemanja is a better player now,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said of the freshman. He’s more experienced and he’s just more comfortable. . . . I thought his effort on the glass was critical to the game. Obviously he made some real key plays for us.”
Two plays loom particularly large. Clinging to a three-point lead with barely three minutes to play, Georgia’s Donte Williams missed a long jump shot as the shot clock ran down. But Djurisic had fought for inside position on Arnett Moultrie underneath the basket and reach up grabbed the ball as it careened hard to the right. Djurisic quickly banked it in on a short fadeaway to increase the Bulldogs’ lead to 62-57 with 3:10 to go.
One minute later, Djurisic stole the ball from State star Dee Bost. He was fouled by Brian Bryant a short time later and made both free throws to stake Georgia to a 63-57 lead with 1:38 remaining.
The sudden surge in rebounding and defense by Djurisic was no fluke.
“Coach has been giving me a hard time throughout the whole season about rebounding and defense,” Djurisic said. “He’s trying to get me to be better at it. I think it just came from him pushing me and I’ve been pushing myself. I’ve been working hard because it’s a very important thing. As long as we can play like this and compete I think we’ll keep winning.”
The Bulldogs held State’s two leading scorers, Moultrie and Bost, to 7 and 10 points, respectively, and a combined 6-of-23 shooting.
They’ll need a similar effort Friday night against Vanderbilt’s lethal inside-out combination. Guard John Jenkins and forward Jeffery Taylor — rank one and two in scoring in the SEC with 20.1 and 17.1 points a game, respectively. Jenkins scored 28 points on 6-of-8 3-point shooting and Taylor added 13 when the Commodores beat Georgia 61-52 late last month in Athens. They also beat the Bulldogs 77-66 on Jan. 14 in Nashville.
“We can’t play them the same way we’ve been playing because it hasn’t worked,” Fox said. “We’ve got to do something different.”
Said Djurisic: “We just have to play the way we played [Thursday]. We need to play determined and we know we know we can win when we make shots and compete hard. I think that’s the key. When we play as a team and communicate well on the floor I think we can beat anyone.”