Alabama got a big first half from freshman Trevor Lacey and withstood Georgia’s second-half rally to win the SEC opener for both teams, 74-59, on Saturday at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Ga.
Georgia (9-6, 0-1 SEC) relied heavily on a zone defense to compensate for its size disadvantage, but that left Lacey open to hurt the Bulldogs from the perimeter. The freshman scored 17 of his 19 points in the first half -- including a 3-for-3 effort from 3-point range -- as the Crimson Tide (12-3, 1-0) opened up a 38-26 halftime lead.
With 9:18 to play in the second half, the Bulldogs went on an 11-4 run to cut Alabama’s lead to 52-48. But the veteran Crimson Tide responded, led by juniors Tony Mitchell and Andrew Steele, with a 14-4 surge of its own to pull away for the road win.
"[Lacey is] averaging, like, six a game, but we told our team he’s a guy that can jump up for 15, 16 points," Georgia coach Mark Fox said. "So we talked about that this week, and he did that in the first half.
"But again, even with that, we got the game at a point in the second half where we needed it to be. We just didn’t take advantage of it."
Fox emphasized that Georgia had to stay out of foul trouble and do a good job defending Alabama’s Mitchell, Trevor Releford and JaMychal Green to put itself in position to contend late.
He said the Bulldogs did a decent job against the Tide trio -- Mitchell scored 17 points, Releford had 12 and Green eight and 10 rebounds -- but the young Georgia team couldn't contend with their experience in the closing minutes.
Alabama scored on numerous high-percentage shots, including dunks and layups, as it overwhelmed the Bulldogs down the stretch. The Tide shot 58 percent (14-for-24) from the floor in the second half and 55 percent (27-for-49) in the game.
"We made some freshman mistakes and our experience showed in that moment of truth, when we got them down to four,” said Georgia freshman Nemanja Djurisic, who had 10 points and five rebounds. “They’re a great team and they just beat us on the boards too much and it was very hard to overcome.”
Alabama outrebounded Georgia 35-20 and outscored the Bulldogs 36-28 in the paint -- exploiting a weakness that became even more glaring when Georgia forward Marcus Thornton went down with a knee injury two weeks ago.
“We gave up a huge percentage in the second half tonight. We’re just not physical enough around the basket,” Fox said. “Obviously without Marcus we knew rebounding was going to be an issue and they got us good on the glass. They whupped us on the glass.”
Freshman Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored a career-high 22 points on 6-for-9 shooting and was 7-for-7 from the line. He was one of three Bulldogs in double figures, along with Djurisic and Gerald Robinson, who had 11.
“We played hard to get it back to four and I guess we just slacked up a little bit, started playing sloppy on the defensive end and they scored easy baskets,” Caldwell-Pope said.