By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
NEW ORLEANS – Georgia might have single-handedly kept Mississippi State out of the NCAA Tournament.
For the second time this season, the Bulldogs of Athens upset the Bulldogs of Starkville, and both losses were costly. Thursday night at New Orleans Arena, Georgia took a 71-61 victory over MSU in the first round of the SEC Tournament.
It was nearly four weeks ago that UGA won an overtime game in Starkville, and that began a five-game losing streak for MSU (21-11). As in the first meeting, Georgia (15-16) shot well Thursday night, making 51 percent overall and 36.8 percent from 3-point range.
The Bulldogs were widely considered to be on the NCAA bubble, and this loss might have popped it for them.
MSU was led by Jalen Steele’s 19 points, while Brian Bryant added 11 and Dee Bost 10. Forward Arnett Moultrie had seven points and eight rebounds.
MSU shot 38.2 percent and committed 14 turnovers.
A 15-2 run gave Georgia a 49-36 lead with 11 minutes, 49 seconds left in the game. But State stormed back behind the shooting of Steele, who scored nine points in 84 seconds to draw his team within 60-57.
But that’s as close as it would get.
Gerald Robinson, who scored 23 points, again found easy paths to the basket against MSU. Four of his teammates also scored in double digits.
MSU big man Renardo Sidney found open teammates for some early buckets to help weaken Georgia’s zone a bit. State led 23-15 after a Rodney Hood jumper, and then Georgia used a 7-0 run to pull within one.
That’s when Caldwell-Pope started heating up, sparking a 16-6 Georgia run to close the half. His 3-pointer tied the game at 25-25, and a Robinson free throw gave UGA a 26-25 lead.
Georgia led 31-29 at halftime.
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