ATHENS, Ga. — Before turning its attention to final exams, Georgia had to face one final test on the floor.
Balancing criticism with praise, Georgia coach Mark Fox concluded its 87-82 win over Winthrop on Tuesday night was a good win, if not a good performance.
“There are a ton of positives from winning this game,” Fox said. “This was a great way to be tested. Sometimes you have to find ways to win.”
Senior Yante Maten had 25 points and 11 rebounds to help Georgia (7-1) hold off Winthrop’s rally, but neither Fox nor Maten were pleased with his performance.
“I told Yante after the game that he did not play well,” Fox said. “Our front-line guys did not play well, and our guards threw the ball away.”
Maten was tasked with guarding Winthrop’s Xavier Cooks, who shot 2 for 11 in the first half but finished with 31 points.
“He is an astounding player,” Maten said, “but I did not play defense very well, and he ended up cooking us tonight.”
“He is a monster,” said Georgia’s Mike Edwards of Cooks. “He kept eating us up in the post.”
Turtle Jackson was one of five Bulldogs in double figures with 14 points. Edwards added 11, and Rayshaun Hammonds and Derek Ogbeide 10 apiece.
Winthrop (5-4) missed six of its first seven 3-pointers, but returned to form over the last 23 minutes, hitting 7 of 12 and overtaking the Bulldogs in the second half. Nych Smith added 12 points and Anders Broman chipped in 11.
“Georgia shot a very high percentage in the second half,” said Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey. “That was the biggest thing. Our guys fought. They battled. I felt like we gave them all they could handle. But they were 15 of 20 in the second half. It’s hard to close out a game on the road when you are not getting any stops.”
An early 12-1 run by the Bulldogs pushed Georgia to a 17-5 lead after a driving layup by Teshaun Hightower less than six minutes into the game. Three straight baskets by Smith rallied Winthrop, however, to a 17-12 deficit just two minutes later.
As late as 3:42 in the half, Hightower’s two free throws put the Bulldogs up 36-27. But Winthrop, after hitting just 1 of 7 3-pointers so far, finished the half hitting three straight attempts from beyond the arc, and adding a pair of free throws to cut the gap to 40-38 at the half.
By halftime, Maten already had 14 points and nine rebounds for the Bulldogs. Cooks led Winthrop with nine points, but had to take 11 shots to make two.
But Cooks dunked twice early in the second half, and Anders Broman nailed a 3-pointer to put Winthrop ahead 47-44 with 16:26 to play. The Eagles’ biggest lead came with 13:07 to play when Anders Broman hit a 3 from the top of the arc to make it 58-52.
Georgia recaptured the lead with 6:20 to play when Juwan Parker hit a short jumper to make it 66-65. But it was not until Maten hit a hook shot with 1:24 remaining that Georgia took the lead for good. Jackson followed that with a running jumper high off the glass to make it 83-79 with 49 seconds to play.
Georgia made 4 of 6 free throws in the last 28 seconds to protect its lead.
A loss by Georgia would have undone some good work away from Stegeman Coliseum since Thanksgiving, including a win over then-ranked St. Mary’s and a win at Marquette. The Bulldogs missed the NCAA Tournament the last two years, in part because of non-conference losses early in the year. The win over Winthrop is the third straight over an NCAA Tournament team from last year.
Georgia: The Bulldogs take 10 days off for final exams before traveling to Massachusetts Dec. 16.
Winthrop: Resumes after exams and visits Alabama State on Dec. 16.
HE SAID IT
Georgia coach Mark Fox: “You want to know the truth, I think I have been too soft on them. These are good kids, and we have had no issues with them. They are never in trouble, and they never give us any resistance to how we ask them to play. But I believe if we dressed the coaches out tonight we could have played more consistent defense.”
The 7-1 start by Georgia is its best since starting 9-1 in 2006-07.
The Bulldogs went ahead at 3:19 when freshman Rayshaun Hammonds hit a 3-pointer. “That’s an everyday shot for me,” he said. “I work on it in practice. We ran it, and it was open, and it was great shot.”