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Georgia sophomore Sahvir Wheeler (2) shoots the ball. The University of Georgia men’s basketball team beat/fell to Samford 79-75 on Dec. 12, 2020, in Athens, Georgia. (Photo/ Kathryn Skeean, kskeean@randb.com)

The Georgia men’s basketball team came back late to defeat Samford 79-75 Saturday at Stegeman Coliseum. Here are some observations from The Red & Black: 

Different type of game

Based on the first four games of the season, there are not many teams who play as fast as Georgia. Samford made the most worthy claim when it came to town Saturday. Head coach Tom Crean praised the Samford program and head coach Bucky McMillan’s high-powered offense and effective full-court press. In an exhibition game against Greenville, the Bulldogs from Birmingham, Alabama, scored 174 points.

“You know, when they talk about throwing the kitchen sink at you, [McMillan's] got a big kitchen sink,” Crean said in a postgame virtual press conference. “Offensively with what he's got with the ability to shoot the ball and what he'll do defensively. I think that's why he's an outstanding coach, and they're gonna have a great program.”

Despite that, neither team sniffed 174 points. The pace was still as fast as one would expect as both teams got up and down the floor off turnovers and rebounds, but many chances fell short.

Georgia shot 34.5% in the first half and missed 12 of 15 attempts from behind the arc. The Bulldogs only scored 31 points in the first 20 minutes, which was their lowest of the season. Samford answered with a 35-point first half and also missed three 3-pointers on 15 attempts. It was a back-and-forth affair with little to no end product.

Both sides saw more success in the second half as Georgia started to grow into the game and Samford looked to defend its lead. Samford’s reigning Southern Conference Player of the Week Myron Gordon was practically unguardable and found his way into the lane with ease and knocked down jumpers. Gordon surged for 17 points in the second half and finished with a career-high 29 points.

Any time the Bulldogs made a push, Gordon was there to repel them. Georgia broke through behind the play of grad transfers Just Kier and PJ Horne. Kier hit back-to-back 3-pointers, made some crucial free throws down the stretch and finished as the Bulldogs’ leading scorer with 18. Horne hit an important 3-pointer in the second half and converted a tip-in to put the game to bed at 78-73. He had 10 points.

The style of game was not one that many Bulldogs were used to, but grad transfers like Kier and Horne stepped up on both ends of the court.

“It just shows that we have a little bit of maturity on this team, and we're bringing it throughout the entire guys,” Kier said in a postgame virtual press conference. “That's a tough team who, off the jump, just started making shots. So, when you're down that entire game, you really got to dig a little deeper on the defensive end to try to get stops when shots aren't falling.”

Playing without Camara

Forward Toumani Camara was on the Georgia bench in street clothes ahead of their matchup with Samford. The sophomore is dealing with a lower-body injury and Crean said he hopes to have him back quickly.

In his place, sophomore JUCO transfer Tyron McMillan started for the Bulldogs. The 6-foot-9 forward only logged 14 minutes, and it was graduate transfer Andrew Garcia and others who picked up the slack. The former Stony Brook forward came up with 11 points and was a useful outlet in the middle of Samford’s 2-3 zone. 

Garcia added some physicality that was missing without Camara and found his way to the free-throw line often, shooting 5-for-7. 

Georgia missed Camara mostly on the glass. The sophomore recorded a career-high 17 rebounds in his previous outing against Montana. In the first half on Saturday, the Bulldogs were outrebounded by Samford 25-20 and gave up eight offensive boards and five second-chance points. It was a completely different story in the second half and the Bulldogs won the rebound battle 46-38 and had 19 second-chance points.

Seven Bulldogs had four or more rebounds, with Tye Fagan and Christian Brown leading the way with seven apiece. Fagan also added 15 points, including a few hard-earned layups around the basket, to make up for Camara’s absence. 

“We want [Camara] back,” Kier said. “We definitely missed his rebounding and his energy. He runs the floor very well as well, which teams have to react to. So we missed him a lot tonight, but I think a lot of guys stepped up.”

Wheeler struggles, still comes up clutch

After recording three-straight double-doubles, sophomore guard Sahvir Wheeler found himself on a cold streak against Montana. He shot 4-for-14 from the field for nine points and dished out five assists while turning the ball over four times. On Saturday, he once again had trouble getting his shot to fall and he turned the ball five times to just six assists.

At the end of the first half, Wheeler was on the bench mad at himself for a late turnover. He had three points on 1-for-6 shooting, three assists and four turnovers. It wasn’t a half to remember and Wheeler had no trouble forgetting.

“I still have confidence in myself, but I think those guys really empowered me and were like 'Man, don't even worry about it, it's a new half, 0-0 new game,’” Wheeler said in a virtual postgame press conference. “We're such a balanced team so when one person isn't doing as good as they usually are, another person could step in right away. And that's how we are, and that's that. I mean, I give all the credit to my teammates.”

He scored eight key points in the final seven minutes of play and ended up with 15 on the night. Despite shooting 5-for-15 from the field, he made his impact in other facets of the game, from getting his teammates involved to playing disruptive defense.