Georgia guard Anthony Edwards (5) takes to the air for a shot. The Georgia Bulldogs defeated SMU in double overtime with a final score of 87-85 on Friday, Dec. 20, 2019, at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Georgia. (Photo/Ryan Cameron rcameron@randb.com)

The Georgia men’s basketball team earned its first conference win of the season over Tennessee Wednesday night as a result of an early lead that propelled the Bulldogs to a 80-63 victory.

Here are some observations from The Red & Black:

Getting a head start

Georgia had a 47-28 lead over Tennessee at the end of the first half. The Bulldogs outrebounded the Volunteers 20-17 in the first half, as well as having only three turnovers to Tennessee’s five. Freshman Anthony Edwards scored 20 points on his own in the first half. The second-highest scoring Bulldog in the same half was junior Rayshaun Hammonds with nine, despite being in early foul trouble. Freshman Sahvir Wheeler led Georgia in assists with four, and Edwards led in rebounds with five.

Ahead of Wednesday’s matchup, Georgia players and head coach Tom Crean said that rebounding and turnovers would be pivotal in the game’s outcome, and the players on the floor seemed to take that to heart in the first half.

In its first conference game against Kentucky, Georgia outrebounded the Wildcats in the first half but was outrebounded in the second. Additionally, in their second SEC matchup against Auburn, the Bulldogs tied the Tigers for rebounds in the first half but were once again outrebounded in the second half. The difference for the Bulldogs Wednesday night was that they built off of their first-half rebounding edge to ultimately outrebounded Tennessee 37-34.

“Tonight was a good example of what happens when both parts are clicking,” Crean said. 

Hammonds’ early foul trouble

Hammonds is a starter and key player for the Bulldogs, but he regularly gets into foul trouble. Wednesday night’s matchup against the Volunteers was no exception. He picked up two fouls less than four minutes into the game. He was then pulled and sat the bench for the next six minutes and 45 seconds.

Hammonds had four or more fouls in four consecutive games leading up to Wednesday night, including conference games against Kentucky and Auburn. Additionally, he had four or more fouls in seven of 15 regular season games before taking on Tennessee Wednesday night. He has fouled out twice this season — once against Kentucky and once against Dayton in Hawaii.

After Georgia’s Jan. 7 loss to Kentucky, Edwards said that having Hammonds in foul trouble hinders the Bulldogs.

“Rayshaun is a key player to the team, so when he fouls out, it brings it down a notch,” Edwards said. “We need him on the floor. He scores, defends, rebounds. He’s the best rebounder we [have]. He’s the best rebounder in the SEC.”

Three who mattered

Anthony Edwards: The freshman had his 13th double-digit scoring performance of his career on Wednesday night. He scored 20 points in the first half alone. Edwards scored only six in the second half, but he still led the Bulldogs with a total of 26 points. Additionally, he had six rebounds and three assists.

Edwards said that he did not feel as if he fell short in the second half, but rather that his role shifted in the second half. 

“I did what I had to do in the first half, got them beat,” Edwards said. “So now I’m going to try to create for my teammates and do what I can with the ball and dishing the ball to them.”

Edwards said that his second-half role included passing the ball, trying to find his teammates on the court, getting “Ray[shaun] going” after he had been in foul trouble and stepping back from the spotlight to let teammates such as Christian Brown and Jordan Harris to “do what they do.” 

Rayshaun Hammonds: Despite his early foul trouble, Hammonds was able to avoid picking up any fouls after 16:13 in the first half. He was Georgia’s second-highest scorer on Wednesday night, even without the nearly seven minutes he spent on the bench in foul trouble. Hammonds scored 21 points and additionally had five rebounds.

“[To avoid fouls] I just stay cool,” Hammonds said. “Stay to myself. Stay focused. Let the game come to me, you know, don’t go out there and get another crazy foul.”

Donnell Gresham: Graduate transfer Gresham led the Bulldogs in rebounding Wednesday night with seven. He scored only six points but strung all of them together in just one minute and 32 seconds. He stole the ball from Tennessee at the top of the key, beat his defender down the court and was fouled on a made layup. He missed the free throw but made two consecutive free throws only moments after.

“To get on a winning streak we [have] got to win one game at a time,” Edwards said. “So we won this game. We [have] got to get another one-game winning streak.”

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