Georgia junior Rayshaun Hammonds (20) dribbles the ball and tries to keep it inbounds. The University of Georgia men’s basketball team hosted North Carolina Central to win by a score of 95-59 on Thursday, Dec. 4, 2019, in Athens, Georgia. (Photo/Kathryn Skeean, kskeean@randb.com)

Prior to Georgia’s matchup North Carolina Central, it was announced the Bulldogs would be without forward Amanze Ngumezi. The sophomore was suspended from all team activities for an "indefinite period of time."

Georgia would be down another big man, which has been hard to come by ever since Nicolas Claxton decided to remain in the NBA Draft this past summer.

Ngumezi is one of three players on Georgia’s roster listed above 6-foot-9 and has been crucial in maintaining the Bulldogs’ physical presence through the start of the season. With him out, there was plenty of room for other players to step up, and they did.

Freshman Rodney Howard received the starting nod in Ngumezi’s absence and showed flashes of potential. He grabbed an offensive board and muscled up for a layup early in the second half. A few plays later, he challenged N.C. Central’s Jibri Blount at the rim and denied him.

Howard was capable, but the real catalyst for the Bulldogs was Rayshaun Hammonds. Crean said the junior is beginning to fill into a role.

“Hammonds is averaging nine rebounds a game,” he said. “He's got to have an identity. Rebounding is carving out an identity for himself.”

Alongside Hammonds, guards even filled in for a lack of height and physicality. Donnell Gresham Jr. had eight rebounds on the night, Tyree Crump had five of his own and plenty more. The only Georgia that didn’t pull down a rebound against the Eagles was Stan Turnier, who checked into the game with 1:21 to go in the game.

Georgia’s physicality showed itself in a variety of ways. Crean honed in on the 47 deflections and the suffocating defense in the second half. N.C. Central shot about 24% from the field and 9% from behind the arc in the final 20 minutes. The Bulldogs made three stops on defense in a row 11 separate times, something Crean said hasn’t happened during his time in Athens.

But the tests will get tougher. N.C. Central was without one its leading scorers in Randy Miller Jr. and its starting center, Justin Whatley. Against other opponents and in SEC play, The Bulldogs won’t have that luxury. They’ll have to learn how to play without Ngumezi.

“We’ve just got to stick together,” Tyree Crump said. “We lost one player, we miss him, but we just got to keep moving on and just keep getting better.”

Crean elaborated on his decision to suspend Ngumezi after the game. He made it clear that his decision was made because of Ngumezi’s attitude problem and nothing else. He wasn’t going to hide the circumstances.

“As I've grown older, I've grown in patience and perspective. But at the same time, that's where we're at,” Crean said. “I want what's best for him. I want what's best for this program too, and at the end of the day that's what was needed at this time.”

When asked if there’s any chance Ngumezi could carve a path and return to the team, Crean left it open.

“I'm not sure, maybe. But we'll see,” he said.

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