Learning how to win was the first lesson Mark Fox wanted to teach his Georgia basketball team. Teaching them how to play with a lead is the title of Chapter 2.
Take Saturday afternoon's game against visiting Arkansas State, for example.
For much of the contest the Bulldogs played like gangbusters, building a 21-point lead with 11:55 to play. That was until they saw the Red Wolves close within seven before Georgia held onto a 68-59 win in front of a Stegeman Coliseum crowd of 6,157.
"I'm proud of the win but I don't think we played a full 40 minutes," Fox said. "But we did play well in stretches to leave with that seventh win, so that part makes me feel good."
Still, Fox knows there are issues that need to be addressed before the Bulldogs tip off conference play Jan. 8 against Kentucky.
Although Georgia was able to withstand the defensive lapses that enabled Arkansas State (3-7) to close within 66-59 on a three-pointer by Donald Boone with 1:34 remaining, the Bulldog know they might not be so fortunate against the likes of the Wildcats or Tennessee.
"I don't subscribe to the theory that you're off and its final exams. We had two guys on the floor who made over a 3.0 (grade point average) this semester who made some bitty-ball mistakes," said Fox, whose Bulldogs were playing their first game in 11 days. "We've got to have better concentration when you're ahead. That concentration and the little things that you executed when you weren't ahead by 20, is what allowed you to get ahead by 20. When you establish that lead, you can't lose that concentration or attention to those details because those things are so important."
But as Fox pointed out, at least his Bulldogs (7-1) didn't squander the lead.
Following a steal by Jeremy Price, Dustin Ware hit back-to-back free throws with 25 seconds left to account for the final score.
Junior Trey Thompkins, who led the Bulldogs with 15 points, admits it gets frustrating not being able to finish out games strong.
"It gets to us sometimes but the end result is what we wanted," Thompkins said. "We think about it every day. We're still trying to figure out what our problem is. We understand that we have to turn it up defensively and that could be what it is."
The Bulldogs started the game strong, scoring 12 of their first 14 trips down the court, en route to building a 36-27 lead halftime, outscoring the Red Wolves 11-3 over the final 7:58, a spurt that included a 3-pointer from Sherrard Brantley with 2:09 to go.
In the second half, Georgia was able to quickly extend the margin, scoring 15 of the first 19 points to build its first 20-point advantage - 51-31 - before Arkansas State rallied back.
"The one thing I'm disappointed is how we started the second half," Arkansas State coach John Brady said. "We needed to come out with more energy. Overall, I was happy with the shot selection
but I can't control if the shots go in. But I was impressed with the quality of shots."
Fox was impressed with senior Chris Barnes.
Barnes, who didn't start the game but did so in the second half, tallied a season-high 12 points, two shy of his career high. Travis Leslie finished second in scoring for Georgia with 14 points and a team-high eight rebounds.
"Chris Barnes was terrific today," Fox said. "He really played like a senior. He was a big key for us; that's why I started him in the second half. He was a very good, a big part of the win."
For Arkansas, the loss snapped a two-game win streak for the Red Wolves (3-7), who took No. 14 Memphis to overtime on Dec. 1 before falling 78-71.
Georgia returns to action Tuesday against High point. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.
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