One of Georgia men’s basketball head coach Tom Crean’s opening statements in his post-game press conference implied how happy he was with the 35 deflections the Bulldogs had in the second half of their 65-55 upset win over No. 13 Auburn.
The Bulldogs were exceptional on the defensive side of the ball down the stretch. Jordan Harris and Anthony Edwards had arguably their single best stretch of on-ball defense this season while guarding a pair of the SEC’s most electric scorers.
“Jordan was just all over the place and the challenge for him was: Let's make this the best defensive game you have ever had here,” Crean said. “We will turn it right back around and say the same thing on Saturday night.”
Harris is one of Georgia’s best defenders and his athleticism on that side of the floor is relentless. Earlier this season, Harris said he is likely the most athletic player on the team outside of Edwards.
Georgia was leading by seven points with 54 seconds remaining in the game when Edwards skied to block a 3-point attempt from J’Von McCormick. Auburn recovered the offensive rebound allowing Samir Doughty to attempt another 3-pointer. This time, Harris flew over to block the shot.
Auburn’s McCormick and Doughty average a combined 27.8 points per game this season. McCormick scored a team-leading 22 points in Wednesday’s game but Georgia contained the duo at its most pressing time.
Edwards and Harris made for an incredibly effective duo as the game wore down. Edwards has been more of an offensive threat this season but is beginning to develop into a fearsome defender as well.
“When he locks down defensively, it is unbelievable,” Crean said. “When he spreads out and he gets those wings, those long arms going, he has such strength in his legs that creates such tremendous balance.”
Freshman forward Toumani Camara was also crucial in the late stages of the game. Edwards noted he had 19 deflections and praised Camara’s ability to make critical defensive plays when his team needs him.
“He will wall it up and take a charge,” Edwards said. “He always comes through big for us.”
Harris and Camara combined for five of Georgia’s eight steals and three of its seven blocks. Camara had two steals in the final eleven seconds to seal the victory.
A defining moment of Camara’s night came when both him and fellow freshman Mike Peake converged on Auburn’s Austin Wiley after he collected an offensive rebound. The smothering Bulldog defense forced an errant pass from Wiley, which landed out of bounds with 13 seconds remaining.
Wiley’s turnover off Auburn’s fourth missed 3-point shot in the final minute was indicative of how Georgia played in the later stages of the game. Auburn’s offense was also held to its lowest score total since Jan. 18 at Florida and shot only 36.8% (21-for-57) overall.
Crean knows good defense is crucial to pushing his recently struggling offense in the right direction. Wednesday’s victory builds confidence for a young Georgia team and will be used as an example moving forward.
“When you are playing good defense and you are locked into the things you can control [such as] your effort, your activity, it is amazing what happens offensively,” Crean said.