December 8, 2009

Dawgs pumped for trip to MSG

Chris Barnes doesn't get too worked about the building he's playing in when he's on the court with the rest of his Georgia basketball teammates.

He'll be making an exception Wednesday night when the Bulldogs take on St. John's at Madison Square Garden in New York City as part of the SEC-Big East Challenge.

"Madison Square Garden - that's as big as it gets," Barnes said. "If you play basketball, that's one of the places you dream about playing."

Tipoff tonight at "The Mecca of College Basketball" is slated for 7 p.m. The game will televised live on ESPN2 with Dan Shulman and Bob Knight will call the action.

This will be the Georgia's fifth all-time appearance in New York City, the last time coming in 2002 when the Bulldogs (4-3) lost to Texas 77-71 in the Coaches versus Cancer Tournament.

Ironically, Georgia's last meeting with St. John's came during the 1983 East Regional semifinal at Syracuse, N.Y., a game won by the Bulldogs 70-67. Two days later, Georgia beat North Carolina to advance to the school's only Final Four.

Wednesday's contest is the second of three non-conference games which began with last Saturday's 74-62 loss to Virginia Tech.

The Bulldogs begin final exams on Thursday before returning the action Dec. 19 against Illinois at the Gwinnett Center.

"We're playing some very good teams, some very good coaches but we need to find out how good we'll do in this kind of environment," Georgia coach Mark Fox said. "We want to see if we can play well enough to succeed at that level; see where we are deficient. Those are the things we need to see. We can really find out these things the next few games."

St. John's is learning a lot about itself as well.

The Red Storm is currently enjoying its best season-opening start since the 1994-95 season, when coach Brian Mahoney led the Red Storm to a seven-game streak to start the year. This week STJ earned 14 points in the AP Poll (41st nationally) and nine points from the coaches (36th).

With a record that includes three wins away from home, St. John's continues to be ranked No. 4 in the RPI report according to rpiratings.com, with the ninth-strongest schedule in the nation (13th non-conference).

St. John's is coming off an 80-71 loss at Duke Saturday.

"We played hard against Duke and did some good things. We allowed them to take the lead and break free," St. John's coach Norm Roberts said. "They had a 9-0 run and got some cushion and that hurt us."

The Bulldogs have been having offensive issues all year.

Georgia's current scoring average of 64.6 points is the second-lowest for the Bulldogs in the past 50 years.

Much of the problems can be attributed to the lack of a perimeter game. Georgia is averaging just four 3-pointers per game, the lowest mark since 1988, the second year of the 3-point shot in basketball.

But Johnson certainly respects what he's seen from Georgia's front line of Trey Thompkins, Barnes and Jeremy Price.

"They keep hitting you with big guys; they have a total inside presence," Johnson said. "Speed-wise, we're probably faster than they are so we can't let them get comfortable with what they run. We've got to push them as much as possible."

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