It was the tale of Tu halves in Stegeman Coliseum.
Tu Holloway, the reigning ESPN.com National Player of the Week and five-time A-10 Player of the Week, was held scoreless in the first half, missing all five shots from the field. He finished the game with 18 points, mainly from the free-throw line where he made all 11 attempts, en route to a 65-57 victory for Xavier.
Trey Thompkins had a similarly schizophrenic night, shooting a lights-out 5-5 from inside the arc in the first half and finishing with 10 points. In the second half, Thompkins was continuously harassed and double teamed and finished the game two minutes early, fouling out with just 14 points.
Georgia will feel disappointed not to come away with a win tonight, missing out on an opportunity to add a much-needed resume win, particularly at home in a game with 14 lead changes. If the Stegeman Colisuem fans are any indication, the team will feel worse given the state of the refereeing.
Xavier finished with 27 attempts from the line compared with just 15 for Georgia. This enabled Holloway to get into a groove offensively, and took away Georgia’s size advantage after both Thompkins and Jeremy Price fouled out. Following Thompkins’ fifth, Gerald Robinson was whistled for a questionable charge, sending the already furious fans into further frenzy as they began to throw towels and shirts towards the court. Coach Mark Fox was equally enraged, picking up a bench warning for his efforts. After the game, one of the refs was pelted in the face with a towel.
Fox wouldn’t verbally confess to his frustration with the referees, stating, “It’s just a part of the game,” but the extended pause before the answer and hanging of his head indicated a deeper emotion. Thompkins went a bit further than his coach but not as far as to make excuses for his team. “I personally didn’t think I intentionally fouled him (on his last play),” Thompkins said, “I was pushed in the back, and then I fell to the ground. But it happens. I have enough faith in my teammates to finish games, it just didn’t happen tonight.”
And that is the big-picture problem for the Dogs. While the officiating certainly played a bigger factor than it should in the second half, one of the refs even managed to prevent a Robinson steal, a step back shows a 1-6 record against the top 35 RPI and a team that struggles mightily when Thompkins is forced out of his comfort zone. While losing to top-tier competition isn’t necessarily a bad thing, Georgia has few games against top-50 RPI teams remaining to ensure they finish the season on the right side of the bubble.
Still, if there’s one thing this team has learned under Coach Fox, it’s resilience. All a casual observer has to do is look at the turnaround from last season to now, with virtually the same roster, to understand the mental makeup of this squad. Dustin Ware captured that spirit when asked about making up ground in the RPI, saying “Every game is important. We’re going to come ready and be determined to get some wins.”
To ensure Georgia’s bubble doesn’t burst, they’re going to have to.
Welcome to Fort Stegeman where Georgia has a rare non-conference battle against Xavier, choosing to give up an off date and take on a top-tier competitor. Both teams come in with 16-6 records and both have flirted with a top-25 ranking for most of the season. You might remember the last meeting between these two, an NCAA first-round clash following Georgia’s incredible run in the SEC tornadoment, that ended with a 73-61 Xavier victory.
Xavier’s 8-1 conference record comes largely because of the play from Tu Holloway, one of just four players averaging over 20 points and 5 assists per game. Holloway was also named the ESPN.com National Player of the Week and has been the A-10 Player of the Week 5 times. Inside, Xavier depend on 7-footer Kenny Frease who has scored double figures in 7 of the last 8 games and shoots over 55% from the field.
Of course, we know about the Dawgs. The real question is, can Travis Leslie dunk over a 7 footer? Lets hope we find out. See you at the tip.
Starters for Georgia: Ware, Robinson, Leslie, Thompkins, Price
Xavier: Holloway, McLane, Jackson, Frease, Lyons.
Georgia loses the tip, which prompts two questions: when was the last time Georgia won a tip and why doesn’t Travis Leslie take the tip-offs?
Update: 15:28: Bit of a slow start to this one, both teams miss easy shots to start the game followed by some good defensive plays from both sides. After a couple of tradeoffs, Xavier gets on the board but Georgia answers back. Not many jumpers in this one, all points have been scored in the paint. Georgia with the edge there, certainly, and they have the lead at the first TV timeout heading to the line, 8-5.
Update 10:43: And jut like that, the jumpers heat up. Trey with a signature smooth shot for two followed by a Xavier three. Trey can’t keep the trend going, missing a three as the shot clock ran down, and Xavier retakes the lead after a Mark Lyons great move in the paint. The Big Frease adds to the lead with a nice hookshot.
Looks like we’re in for a back-and-forth battle folks. Robinson answers Lyon’s move with one of his own and Chris Barnes makes a ridiculous layup to retake the lead, 15-14 Dawgs.
Update 6:06: Xavier with 2 FT’s and a jumper, Trey with a layup and a jumper of his own to take back the lead. Trey looks in the zone, though I suppose that’ll happen when you aren’t constantly getting double teamed as has been the case during league play.
Getting the sense that Xavier has a bit more patience that Georgia. Xavier’s dealing with the crowd, which is pretty loud but did end the streak of sellouts, very well and seem to be mythotically running their offense and they’re up 23-21 after a couple of poor Georgia possessions.
Update 3:21 The Big Frease strikes again. Georgia can’t allow him to get into position because he’s just too tall. Leslie makes a great block, runs down court and gets a good pass from Ware to finish at the other end. The crowd is livid and the ref, who couldn’t get out of the way of Robinson stealing the ball and knocked it back to Xavier. Xavier head to the line following the ref’s play and they lead 25-23
Update Half: Georgia takes the lead into halftime, 27-26 following some magnificent defense on the last shot.
Halftimes thoughts: Xavier looks like a more complete, balanced, disciplined team but they don’t have the talent or size of Georgia. Trey Thompkins was the leading scorer in the half, going 5-7 from the field with 10 points. Georgia has managed to keep Tu Holloway off the scoreboard but if he gets going in the second half Georgia could be in trouble. The second half is about to start, lets roll.
Update 15:48 Georgia came out of the half looking very strong, on a mission. Focused. I like what I’m seeing. They’re crashing the boards will intensity and taking advantage of their size. Of course, as I wrote that, Georgia shot it from outside a couple of times unsuccessfully and Xavier got on the board in the second half. Georgia just has a two point lead, 32-30.
Update 10:51: I’m not quite sure what to say here. It’s a pretty ugly game and neither team seems to want to take control. They make little runs, a couple baskets in a row each, and it seems so easy to get those few points. But then they forget how and the other team does it. Xavier’s guard play is better, Georgia’s inside game is better. I don’t know what’s going to happen. Xavier’s up 43-41.
Update 7:30: Despite their size advantage, Georgia, and especially Trey (who is 11-50 on the year), continue to shoot from 3 and are just 1-9 from range. A better percentage or less shots (which I suppose would also give them a better percentage) and Georgia could be the one’s in front. Instead, Xavier lead 47-44 with 7:30 to go.
Update: 3:59: AHHHHHHHHHHHH Travis Leslie with the THUNDEROOOOOP!!!!! Georgia were desperately in need of a wakeup call. Was that it?
Well, probably not. Xavier take a timeout and hit a three, then Tu Holloway makes a couple of freebies. Xavier leads 52-46.
Update Final: Crowd comes to life again following two FT’s from Trey but Holloway silences them with some lane magic. After two Ware FT’s Georgia was down just two when Trey Thompkins fouled out. Stegeman is livid because it looked like Trey was pushed to the ground and Holloway tripped over him. Either way, Georgia will have to try and overcome a 6-point deficit without their All-SEC Forward.
On the ensuing possession, Stegeman erupts in anger again and this time Coach Fox joins in the histeria as Gerald is whistled for charge. Fox picks up a bench warning and fans start throwing things down to the court. Nothing made it on the floor, but it’s getting very hostile.
Barnes can’t convert on a layup and Leslie is forced to foul. Now down 8 with 47 seconds to go, fans head to the exit.
Final score: Xavier 65 Georgia 57