NEW ORLEANS – Dustin Ware didn’t get the 16 points he needed to reach 1,000 for his career. But he got something more important – a chance to play again.
Ware did manage 13 points, however, and along with the 23 of fellow guard Gerald Robinson, the veteran back court was a big reason Georgia was able to defeat Mississippi State 71-61 and advance to the second round of the SEC Tournament.
“Dustin’s had a tough year but he shot it well tonight,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. “I thought he and Gerald played like experienced players, like seniors should play. We had a lot of guys make plays to win tonight. I thought they all felt good about seeing a teammate chip in.”
It was particularly uplifting for Ware, who has been mired in a long shooting slump.
“I wanted to be aggressive,” said Ware, who was scoreless at the half. “Teammates, coaches, they all kept a lot of confidence in me and really kept me going. I saw a few go down and it really felt good.”
Ware was 3-of-6 from behind the arc as Georgia shot 51 percent from the field and 36.8 (7-for-19) from 3-point range. The Bulldogs had five players score in double figures for just the second time this season. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had 13 and Donte Williams and Nemanja Djurisic had 11 apiece. Djurisic, a freshman from Montenegro, also had 11 rebounds to give UGA its first double-double from a post player this season.
The Bulldogs (15-16) will now face Vanderbilt for a third time this season. The Commodores (21-10), who had a first-round bye, defeated Georgia in their two regular-season meetings. Tip off is 10 p.m.
“Vandy’s a great shooting team,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. “We can’t play them the same way we’ve been playing because it hasn’t worked. We’ve got to do something different.”
The Commodores got 28 points on 6-of-8 3-point shooting from guard John Jenkins when they last met Georgia and won 61-52 on Feb. 19 in Athens. They beat the Bulldogs 77-66 on Jan. 14 in Nashville.
It was the second time this season the Bulldogs knocked off Mississippi State (21-11, 8-8). The Maroon Dogs were ranked 20th when Georgia beat them in overtime 70-68 on Feb. 11. The latest loss likely will eliminate MSU from NCAA tournament consideration.
The Bulldogs dominated State in the second half Thursday, outscoring it 40-32 and leading by as many as 13 points. But State’s Jalen Steele scored 11 of his team-best 19 points in a two-minute stretch that saw the Maroons close to within 60-57 with 3:46 to go.
However, Georgia answered every challenge from then until the final buzzer. Williams missed a 15-foot jump shot as the shot-clock wound down, but Djurisic was there to bail him out with a rebound and put-back to get the lead back to five. Georgia’s defense forced a pair of State turnovers and Djurisic made two free throws to expand the lead to seven with 1:38 to go.
Then Robinson made the play of the game. With the lead back down to five and the shot-clock again running out, he pulled up off the drive and buried a 12-foot jump shot on the right side of the lane that made it 68-59 with 58 seconds to play.
“It was good to see that one go down,” Robinson said. “I missed a couple of midrange, east shots earlier in the game. I felt like everybody was shooting the ball very well other than me.”
Georgia was able to make foul shots the rest of the way to salt away the victory.
“I give Georgia credit; I thought they played awfully well,” State coach Rick Stansbury said. “I thought they jumped up and made shots when they needed to make shots.”
Now the Bulldogs will have to turn around and play another game in fewer than 22 hours.
“The turnaround is not really a concern,” Fox said. “These guys play back-to-back all the time in practice. Gerald has a body where he can play 40 minutes every night.”
Said Caldwell-Pope: “We used to play back-to-back all the time in AAU. I’m just looking at it as another AAU game.”