Freshman Anthony Edwards has been the lifeblood of the Georgia men’s basketball offense through the first 10 games of the 2019-20 season. But when the Bulldogs needed a bucket in double overtime against SMU on Friday, they didn’t look in his direction.
Instead, head coach Tom Crean called on Sahvir Wheeler with just under 15 seconds to go in the game. Crean had a play in mind that hadn’t been used yet. It was a simple action, something he’d been running since his days coaching at Marquette.
Wheeler stood at the top of the key while Toumani Camara and Rayshaun Hammonds ran toward the perimeter to give him a double screen. Hammonds slipped to the basket to combat SMU’s switch-heavy defense. Edwards and Tyree Crump stood in opposite corners then cut toward Wheeler to receive the ball if need be. Crean said he left the ball in Wheeler’s hands to "operate.” He saw an opening and took it.
Wheeler hesitated, drove down the left lane, stepped past two defenders and made a left-handed layup. His bucket gave the Bulldogs a 87-85 lead with 1.9 seconds to go. Georgia had multiple chances to close out the game prior to his heroics, but Wheeler made the most of the situation.
“As a player, as a competitor, you don’t want to necessarily be in these types [of] games,” Wheeler said. “But, I mean, you love that. You love that chance to win the game and go out strong.”
Wheeler isn’t a stranger to making a clutch shot. You don’t have to look past Friday’s game for another instance of Wheeler’s abilities. Down two at the end of the first overtime, Wheeler took initiative, drove in and tied the game off a broken play.
Crean called him one of the best layup-makers he’s ever been around, although he said Wheeler could get better at using his right hand.
“He's been there hundreds of times in those situations because of his DNA and the way he's been raised, as a person and as a player,” Crean said. “So we're very comfortable with him making a decision.”
Wheeler moved freely and made plays around the basket even though SMU defenders were sagging off on the perimeter due to his lack of deep range. He finished with nine points, eight rebounds and two steals. If not for his two clutch baskets, the Bulldogs wouldn’t be sitting at 7-3.
In the 2018-19 season, Georgia was 0-6 in games decided by four points or less. This season — with nine freshmen and 10 new players — the Bulldogs are 3-0.
“You've got to recruit competitors, you’ve got to recruit guys that have won, whether they were football players, baseball players, soccer players, guys that have a belief,” Crean said. “Because when you get to college, it's a whole other level of what you've got to do because [the opponent’s] doing everything they can to win, too.”